Will talk to tobacco farmers, but not at COP7: Health ministry

Greater Noida, Nov 7 (IANS) The Union Health Ministry on Monday said it has decided to talk to the tobacco farmers, protesting for the last couple of months over the stringent norms against the tobacco industry in India, and demanding participation in the ongoing WHO FCTC COP7.

“We will certainly talk to them (tobacco farmers) over their demands and grievances,” said Additional Secretary at Health Ministry Arun Panda.

He was speaking at the first media briefing of the WHO FCTC COP7 — world’s biggest convention on tobacco control policy, at the India Exposition Mart here.

Asked if the Health Ministry is ready to talk to the farmers during the ongoing conference by letting them participate in the convention, he told IANS: “We cannot let them participate in this conference. We will certainly talk to them outside…somewhere else.”

Adding, Vera da Coasta Silva, Head of the UN Tobacco Treaty Secretariat, said that the tobacco farmers were always adamant over their demands and tried to be manipulative.

“Lets differentiate the farmers from the tobacco farmers. I have seen the tobacco farmers and they always try to manipulate. Even if they are brought on table, they are not on the table and always think about the profits. They bribe… so sometimes it’s difficult to actually let them participate due to conflict of interest,” Silva told IANS.

Thousands of tobacco farmers have been staging a series of protests in various parts of the country, seeking participation in the WHO FCTC COP7. They have stated that their participation will help in better discussion of the illicit trade of tobacco.

On Monday, hundreds of them were detained by the Noida police while protesting at the WHO FCTC COP7 venue.