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Foreign funders funding anti-tobacco lobby, says ITC’s Y.C. Deveshwar

ITC chairman Deveshwar says certain India-based NGOs are acting at behest of foreign funders based in the US

Guntur: ITC Ltd chairman Y.C. Deveshwar pointed a finger at US-based organizations, whom he accused of “funding” the Indian anti-tobacco lobby, which he said was harming farmers’ interests and indirectly aiding in cigarette smuggling.

Deveshwar did not take any names, but said certain India-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were acting at the behest of foreign funders based in the US.

When asked if he had any concrete evidence to back his claims, he said ITC had passed on “some information” to the government.

“This kind of money, where is it is coming from?” Deveshwar asked a group of journalists on Thursday, before answering it himself. “Behind this is vested interests… where money is given into the hands of so-called NGOs, who are being influenced to kill local brands knowing fully well that smuggled cigarettes of some other industry are going to be used here.”

Tobacco companies in the country have stopped cigarette production owing to a lack of clarity on the size of graphic health warnings on cigarette packs. ITC, the maker of brands such as Classic, Gold Flake and Wills Navy Cut, has shut production at all its five cigarette factories since 1 April.

The ministry of health and family welfare said in September that graphic warnings on consumption of cigarettes shall occupy 85% of packing from 1 April. However, in March, a parliamentary committee hearing the issue tabled a report recommending that new pictorial health warnings occupy 50% of front and back panels of a cigarette pack. Previous rules mandated pictorial health warnings to cover 40% of the front face of a cigarette pack.

The ambiguity on the portion of a cigarette pack that should depict graphic warnings on the harmful effects of tobacco consumption has forced cigarette makers to temporarily halt production till unambivalent rules emerge.

“You do not have to terrorize the consumer by covering the whole pack with warning,” Deveshwar said in Guntur, a hub of tobacco sourcing for ITC, the country’s biggest cigarette maker.

Andhra Pradesh, where Guntur is located, accounts for two-thirds of the tobacco sourced by ITC, with Karnataka accounting for the rest.

Deveshwar said the company will invest Rs . 345 crore in Guntur and make it the headquarters of ITC’s agribusiness division, which has a turnover of Rs . 8,000 crore.

ITC will invest Rs . 200 crore in s 0.5 million sq. ft facility that will provide employment to 500 people.

The facility will also house a research division for agri commodities, he said.

Deveshwar said ITC will source chillies, pepper and millets from Andhra Pradesh.

Guntur’s food-safe chillies, or chillies without pesticides and chemicals, have export potential to Europe and the US, Deveshwar said.

The company will also build Guntur’s first five-star hotel by 2019 with an investment of Rs . 145 crore.

The 144-room My Fortune hotel will come up on a 1.44-acre property that earlier was the site of an ITC guest house. “We are taking a leap of faith in anticipation of growth in this region,” Deveshwar said at the media conference.

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