India is the highest TB burdened country with World Health Organization (WHO) giving an estimated incidence figure of 2.2 million cases of TB for India. It is estimated that about 40% of the Indian population is infected with TB bacteria, the vast majority of whom have latent rather than active TB. The global burden of TB remains enormous; in 2012, there was an estimated 8.6 million incident cases of TB and 1.3 million people died from the disease worldwide. Among these deaths there were an estimated 1,70,000 from MDR-TB (multi drug resistant TB), a relatively high total compared with 4,50,000 incident cases of MDR-TB.
Tuberculosis (TB) kills more people than any other single infection, the burden of TB cases and drug resistance are increasing, and majority patients in India have access to sputum smear examination by ZN Stain for AFB (Acid Fast Bacilli or TB bacilli) given to us by Robert Koch in 1882; over 125 years ago. The day he discovered the TB bacilli was 24th March, which is celebrated as World TB Day to this day. TB is also referred to as Koch’s disease to honour this great scientist and noble laureate. TB remains one of the major global health problems, and the situation is worsening in many parts of the world, primarily because of the association between tuberculosis and the epidemic of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and AIDS and the growing prevalence of drug resistance. The highest prevalence of both tuberculosis and drug resistance is found in countries with limited resources like India and China. Poverty and other social factors remain the principal determinants of high global TB rates, not just TB control efforts.
High Tax on cigarette to affect the livelihood of lakhs in Meghalaya
In the budget presented on 18 March’15, the government has proposed to increase VAT on Cigarette and other tobacco products by 35%. This would increase in VAT rate on cigarettes to 27% effective from date of notification.
Legal Cigarettes industry makes a sizeable contribution towards the livelihood of more than 30,000 traders both in rural and urban areas of Meghalaya. In a manner of speaking, cigarette business plays a vital role in ensuring subsistence for a huge population of over 2.2 lacs which includes families and dependants of these traders. In absence of Coal mining, when the entire state has struggled to deal with employment issues over last few months, such an action would seriously hamper the economy of the tribal belts of the state.
Central Govt. has already increased Excise on cigarettes by 25% in Union Budget on 28 Feb.’15
It is relevant here to point out that in the recent Union Budget the Govt. of India has increased Central Excise Duty on cigarettes by up to 25% thus further widening the price gap between the legal cigarettes and the illegal ones. On top of this the increase in VAT rate on cigarettes by Govt. has made the legal cigarettes even more expensive.
High Tax on cigarettes would force cigarette prices to go up, which will in turn increase the price differential in legal cigarettes compared to the illegally manufactured cigarettes in the State and smuggled cigarettes originating neighbouring states and Bangladesh. This would encourage smuggling/illicit trading of cigarettes in the State. This situation would culminate in complete domination of smugglers and anti-social elements in State’s Cigarette trade and honest traders would be being harassed, exploited and in turn forced to pull out from the business.
Will Govt achieve anything?
It is relevant here to note that the States of UP,Bihar,Tripura, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, who had also increased VAT on cigarettes were faced with the problem of falling revenue due to increase in illegal cigarettes in the States. All these States have since reduced VAT rate on cigarettes and experienced significant increase in revenue from cigarette because of end of illegal cigarette trade in the States.
Closer to home Tripura increased VAT on tobacco products to 35% in Nov 2013, which led to huge influx of illegal cigarettes from neighbouring states and Bangladesh leading to fall of tax revenues by 15%. The Tripura government on realising futility of the decision on both the revenue or tobacco consumption, rolled back the hike which has led to reduction in the illegal stock inflow and increase in tax revenue by 120% in last couple of months. For Assam as well, the state government has increased VAT on Tobacco products to 30% from Nov 2014 resulting into similar influx of illegal cigarettes from neighbouring states and a subsequent fall in tax revenues by 15%.
Currently these illegal cigarettes are freely available at Rs.10/- for a pack whereas similar legitimate cigarette packs are available at a bare minimum of around Rs.50/-. It is known to all that only legitimate cigarettes bear the brunt of any tax increase whereas illegal cigarette don’t get impacted at all. The proposed cess on cigarettes in the state will result in making the legitimate cigarette even more expensive without impacting illegal cigarettes. Because of high price differential between the legitimate cigarettes and those of illegal cigarettes the consumption of cigarettes has already shifted from legal tax paying cigarettes to the tax evaded illegal/smuggled cigarettes. And in the process the Govt.’s objective of controlling cigarette consumption by increasing taxes has fallen by the way side.
Tobacco Traders’ Plea to State Govt
The plight of over 30,000 traders of state is at stake. In light of the above facts, the State Govt. would do well to rethink on the issue in the context of likely increased cigarette smuggling from neighbouring countries. The region has suffered enough from violence and the Govt. should not be guilty of giving an impetus to anti-social elements through unintended consequence of high VAT rate and proposed cess on cigarettes. In brief, the real beneficiary from the proposed cess on cigarettes would be the smugglers and terrorist groups from neighbouring states and countries and illicit traders of cigarettes.
The biggest losers in this game, has been the honest and marginal Cigarette Traders of Meghalaya, their families and the state Govt itself.
The recent statement in the floor of the house by Meghalaya Chief Minister Dr Mukul Sangma against the local media has resulted in severe botheration. While the CM has gone to the extent of branding the media as mouthpieces of militant organizations and having allegiances to paid news what has gone unnoticed is that the CM is the most bothered lot here. How? Well, by and large the local media houses in this state are going about their jobs faithfully and by far is not leaning towards any lobbies that is often seen in national media houses. This can well bother a political dispensation since when the media which informs all cannot be made to toe a line then it is bound to erupt in statements like what we have heard from the CM lately. Whether the CM ultimately dodges or not from his statement is another question but the political dispensation is certainly not happy with the straight work that media houses here are doing is what is fretting them. They are rather bothered about the lack of propagandas in media here with which politicians love to associate. But, there is no doubt that the Meghalaya CM maintains a harangue tongue against the local media often and the recent episode is a reaffirmation of that.
Ooomph what a week it has been, some tensed moments, baked hundreds of cupcakes and here I am with another informative article for you all. How you all are doing? Well, this week lets talk about food that we all love irrespective of our age. Lets talk about Pizza- an all time favorite for everyone! But if you think Pizza was strictly an Italian creation? Well think again!
Interestingly the early Greeks were the ones who laid the foundations of pizza, who used to bake large, round and flat breads which they inunct with oil, herbs, and spices.
Would you agree that café is a Mecca of urban society? Be it an important informal business meeting, catching up with friends or loved ones, a coffee bar/shop has the perfect setting for all the social animals. In some cafés you don’t even have to order food and can chit chat for long hours without getting bothered by anyone.
When Pink Cherry Bubble Café in Guwahati was conceptualized, the pool of people who came to help was really inspiring. When host of brains come together to work for a common purpose the results are always stupefying. And, when this cafeteria was launched on 10th May, 2014, it was a collaboration of various people coming from different backgrounds. There and then, I understood that this cafeteria deserves to be more than just a food café. Therefore, we thought of making this place an ‘open creative space’ and utilize the café more constructively.