The Voluntary Health Association of India, an NGO, has taken exceptional objection to the United Nations’ awarding of ‘World Business and Development Award, 2012′ to ITC Limited. The organization has voiced its protest stating that the recognition stood against the ethos of World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. ITC Limited happens to be the largest producer of cigarettes in India.
The NGO has expressed surprise that the very organizations that have pledged commitment to health services and control of tobacco menace are the very same ones that have sponsored and presented the award. The organizations that have been subject to flak are the United Nations Development Programme, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“This is a great discouragement for those working in the area of public health. The award will portray the tobacco industry in a positive light and add to its clout which it has time and again used to oppose tobacco control initiatives,” said Bhavna B Mukhopadhyay, Executive Director, VHAI. The NGO claimed that ITC’s core business “leads to more poverty, underdevelopment, disease, death and environmental damage”.
However, ITC was quick to spring to its defense. It retaliated by saying that 57% of its revenue streamed from non-cigarette ventures, including earning carbon credits for tribals. “This award acknowledges a global exemplar in creating sustainable livelihoods of 56 million person days of employment for poor tribals and small farmers, besides creating 125,000 hectares of plantation. This initiative has transformed lives of tribals in states like Andhra Pradesh and the resultant economic prosperity is well documented and appreciated by both government and the people in rural areas,” said spokesperson of ITC, Najeeb Arif.
The VHAI in spite of the statement issued by ITC seems non-compromising. “We hope that the Award Committee will maintain the purity of the Awards and will withdraw this it from the company with immediate effect,” said the NGO.
In 2003, India had sanctioned the first ever global public health treaty that was negotiated under the UN. According to the treaty, signatories were to compulsorily avoid any conflicting interest with the tobacco industry and also maintain negligible dealings with them.
A recent report ‘Global Adult Tobacco Survey-India 2009-2010′ was presented by the Ministry of Health and Family Affairs. The report states that 14% of adults, which include 24.3% men and 2.9% women are addicted to tobacco in any form. 5.7% adults, which consist of 10.3% men and 0.8% women are addicted to the cigar.
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