Pro-tobacco BJP MP says not asked to quit Parliamentary panel

New Delhi: Amidst a controversy over his remarks suggesting “nil” effects of smoking, “beedi baron” and BJP MP Shyam Charan Gupta on Sunday dismissed reports that he has been asked to step down from a Parliamentary panel but said he would obey instructions from his party high command.

Pro-tobacco BJP MP Shyam Charan Gupta from Allahabad
Pro-tobacco BJP MP Shyam Charan Gupta from Allahabad

“Till now, I have not recieved any instructions (to step down). If I receive any sort of instructions, I will accept it,” he told PTI over phone from his consituency Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh.

He, however, added he would visit the national capital in a day or two, amid reports that Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu has called him here.

“Whatever the party leadership decides, I will abide by it,” Gupta said.

He refused to comment when referred to the controversy that has arisen because of his remarks.

Gupta is a member of the Committee of Subordinate Legislations examining the provisions of Cigerattes and Other Tobacco Products Act 2003 which has already asked the government to hold its proposal to increase the size of pictoral warnings on tobacco products from the present 40 per cent to 85 per cent.

Gupta had reportedly told the panel that beedis have “nil” harmful effect and had also suggested that the government should make a distinction between smoked and chewed tobacco as he believes that the former was not as harmful.

His remarks were criticised by Opposition parties including Congress, SP and CPI-M which alleged that there was a “conflict of interest” as Gupta was in tobacco trade.

“I can produce a lot of people in front of you who are chain smokers of beedi and till date they have had no disease, no cancer… You get diabetes due to eating sugar, rice, potatoes. Why don’t you write warnings for all these things as well,” Gupta, a Lok Sabha MP from Allahabad had said.

Significantly, Gupta remarks came barely days after the panel head Dilip Gandhi’s statement that there was no Indian study to confirm that tobacco use leads to cancer, leaving the government embarrassed and rival parties and the medical fraternity gunning for him.

The government has said it will take a “measured and responsible” decision on the issue of increasing the size of pictorial warnings on tobacco.