Parliamentary panel recommends assessing environmental impact of tobacco cultivation

Parliamentary standing committee observes that tobacco curing and cultivation is destroying forests and contributing to green house effect


India is the world’s third largest tobacco producer, accounting for more than 12% of the world’s raw tobacco production. It produces around 800 million kg of raw tobacco every year. Photo: Reuters
India is the world’s third largest tobacco producer, accounting for more than 12% of the world’s raw tobacco production. It produces around 800 million kg of raw tobacco every year. Photo: Reuters

New Delhi: Noting that tobacco curing and cultivation is not only destroying forests but also contributing to green house effect, a parliamentary standing committee has recommended to the central government to conduct a detailed environmental impact assessment of tobacco cultivation.

The committee has also asked the government to make efforts to gradually reduce human consumption of tobacco and explore its alternative uses such as in making pesticides.

India is the world’s third largest tobacco producer, accounting for more than 12% of the world’s raw tobacco production. It produces around 800 million kg of raw tobacco every year.

Indian tobacco is also exported to more than 80 countries across the world, making a significant contribution to India’s economy, by earning about $914.43 million foreign exchange (2012-13) and accruing $3.65 billion (2012-13) to the exchequer by way of excise levies on its manufacture.

The tobacco industry also provides employment to nearly 38 million people who are engaged in the various processes, from cultivation, curing, grading manufacturing to marketing.

But all this comes at a huge environmental cost, besides killing millions of Indians every year.

According to the environment ministry’s estimates, historical use of fuel wood for tobacco curing and manufacture of cigarette and other consumables, had destroyed 680 million tonnes of fuel wood, from 1962 to 2002. Another study by the Karnataka State Department of Science and Technology estimated that 120,000 tonnes of firewood are needed every year to cure tobacco leaves in that state alone.

According to health ministry’s estimates, tobacco consumption-related diseases are killing 1 million people in the middle-aged group every year. About 50% of cancer cases in India are also due to tobacco consumption. A health ministry study had also found out that loss of revenue in treatment of diseases caused due to tobacco consumption is over Rs.100,000 crore per year which is more than the revenue of Rs.17,000 crore earned by selling tobacco.

“The adverse impact of tobacco on health is well-known. What was less known was the effect of tobacco curing on environment. The Committee notes that tobacco curing and cultivation is not only destroying forests but also contributing to green house effect,” said parliamentary standing committee on science and technology, environment and forests in its report, ‘Effects of Tobacco Curing on Environment and Health’, presented in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.

The committee headed by Congress leader Renuka Chowdhury recommended “an environmental impact assessment of cultivation of tobacco to know its harmful effects on environment”.

It also asked the environment ministry to find out the estimated number of trees felled for curing of tobacco and its effect on forests.

“The effect of chemical pesticides in tobacco cultivation and on the crops which are grown in and around tobacco fields needs to be found out,” said the committee, while recommending that the environment ministry puts in place a mechanism in coordination with other concerned ministries to alleviate soil and environmental degradation caused by tobacco cultivation.

The committee further said that tobacco farmers need to be educated about the effect of chemical fertilizers and pesticides on soil quality and encouraged to use organic manures.

It noted that tobacco cultivation, except for exports, needs to be discouraged, in a gradual manner.

“Financial benefits that accrue in various forms on account of tobacco are negligible compared to losses suffered in terms of deaths of people and the expenditure incurred by the government on treatment of tobacco-related problems of people. Besides financial burden on the exchequer, its social cost/effect on society in terms of expenditure on treatment on tobacco-related diseases and loss of lives, is enormous,” said the committee, while batting for incentives to farmers for shifting to other crops.

The committee asked the ministries of health, agriculture, finance, commerce and industry, human resource development, information and broadcasting and environment to undertake better-coordinated efforts.

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