THE Punjab and Haryana Chapter of the Federation of Retailer Association of India (FRAI) staged a protest at sector 3 of Panchkula on Friday to oppose proposed amendments in The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003.
The amendments proposed by the Ministry of Health disallow retail sale of loose cigarettes, prohibits sale of tobacco products to persons below 21 years of age, put controls on in-shop advertising and promotion among other changes.
Varun Arora, member of FRAI said, “FRAI and its member organisations from all over the country are disturbed by the undemocratic amendments as they seem to be aimed at destroying business for smaller retailers without impacting large retailers.”
The organisation has appealed for an immediate rollback of proposed amendments, calling them “extremely harsh”.
“By making age-old trade practices like selling loose cigarettes a cognizable offence and an imprisonment of seven years for small violations makes small traders look like heinous criminals,” the organisation has said.
“Livelihoods of around 6.5 lakh micro retailers and 30-lakh dependants in the state depends on this,” said Mohinder, another member of the organisation.
The organisation, comparing two-year imprisonment for extortion or for dangerous driving that can cause death, has called the seven-year imprisonment for violation “extreme”. “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 et al. How can anybody be so insensitive while drafting the amendment towards poor, marginalised people who are struggling to earn their daily living?” protestors asked.
They have also demanded that petty retailers be exempted from licensing requirement under the proposed amendment. “A poor and uneducated small shopkeeper which barely manages two square meals a day will have to struggle to get a license. Not only that, they will also have to struggle to renew it every year,” said Arora.
“A few NGOs who work for foreign companies are constantly pressurising 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 business of petty retailers,” he added.