Order Recall of Proposed 2020 Amendments in the COTPA Law: FRAI Appeals PM
Order Recall of Proposed 2020 Amendments in the COTPA Law: FRAI Appeals PM

Federation of Retailer Association of India (FRAI) has appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene and order a recall of the proposed 2020 amendments in the COTPA law which threatens to further attack the livelihoods of petty retailers selling tobacco and related products across India. 

FRAI is a representative body of about 4 crore micro, small and medium retailers from across the country with a membership of 34 retail associations from the Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western parts of the country. FRAI represents the interests of the poorest of the poor in the country and raises issues that impact their employment opportunities and also render help to such people who are unable to express their views. FRAI members sustain their livelihood by selling goods of daily needs which are demanded by the general public like biscuits, soft drinks, mineral water, cigarettes, bidi, pan, etc. in the neighborhood. The profit of these micro retailers in selling these essential products works out to about Rs 15,000 per month which is barely adequate to feed two square meals a day to their family members.

The Coronavirus triggered lockdowns and economic destruction has further damaged the economic condition of small retailers and any further adverse policy which destabilizes their business activity will be devastating. FRAI and its member organizations from all over the country are disturbed by the undemocratic amendment of CoTPA bill 2020 proposed by the Ministry of Health, which disallows the retail sale of loose sticks of cigarettes, prohibits the sale of tobacco products to persons below 21 years, put controls on in-shop advertising and promotion amongst others, as they seemed to be aimed at destroying the business for the smaller retailers without impacting large retailers.

Speaking on the issue, Ram Asre Mishra, President, Federation of Retailers Association of India, said, “We humbly appeal for the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s empathy and request him to instruct the designated ministry to immediately roll back the proposed COTPA amendments as they are extremely harsh. By making age-old trade practices like selling loose cigarettes a cognizable offence and an imprisonment of 7 years for small violations make small traders look like heinous criminals. Compared to 2-year imprisonment for extortion or for dangerous driving that can cause death, this is the extreme of the extremes. This puts paan, bidi, and cigarette sellers in the same crime list category as a person voluntarily throwing acid on someone or causing death by negligence, etc. How can anybody be so insensitive while drafting the amendment towards poor, marginalized people who are struggling to earn their daily living?”

“Already India has the toughest tobacco control laws in the world which has led to degrowth in legal tobacco consumption. Current laws have only helped illicit and smuggled cigarettes to grow to benefit anti-social elements. Then why these extra harsh tobacco control measures have become more important than other health issues like fighting deadly diseases such as coronavirus, diabetes, obesity, mental health, and diseases caused by rising air pollution, etc. Unlike Coronavirus, policy changes like these are totally in the hands of our policymakers and should be given serious human consideration. Today, we feel victimized and targeted as a community and plead for the mercy of Modi Ji,” he added.

Increase of area within which tobacco products cannot be sold from 100 yards of an educational institution to 100 metres of an educational institution. Refuting the proposal, Gulab Chand Khoda, Joint Secretary, Federation of Retailers Association of India, stated, “Our members provide various products to consumers based on the necessities. The tobacco products such as cigarettes and bidis are also included in the products offered by our members. As per law, we do not sell tobacco products to minors. In congested and heavily populated cities, such a restriction is impractical. Petty retailers will have to vacate their place without any means to support their livelihoods. Moreover, if a new educational institution will come up within 100 metres of the retailer’s location and he will again be asked to move.”

The suggested amendment prohibits the sale of tobacco products to persons below 21 years (earlier this was 18 years). In India, an 18-year-old person can cast his/her vote to elect a government of choice, get a driving license. But it is draconian, that the same person cannot exercise their choice when it comes to buying a tobacco product, which is sold legally. The existing law already prohibits the sale of cigarettes to minors, so there is no cause for concern that persons who do not understand the implications are buying tobacco products.

The petty retailers also request an exemption for any such licensing requirement under the proposed amendment. FRAI believes that few NGOs who work for foreign companies are constantly pressurizing the government to enforce unfair and unimplementable laws against small shopkeepers. These policies are helping big foreign and e-commerce companies at the cost of the business of petty retailers.

FRAI and its members request the Government of India to be practical and equitable, especially for the lowest socio-economic strata of society who are already struggling to make two ends meet and not impose such harsh, arbitrary, and unreasonable restrictions on our right to trade and livelihood.

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