The Paschimbango Pan Abong Tamak Bikreta Samity, present the collective voice of the interests of more than 4 lakhs traders, retailers and panwallas, selling tobacco products across West Bengal. They represent the micro retailers of India, and their livelihood depends equally on selling of tobacco products and non-tobacco items of everyday use such as bread, eggs, juices, soft drinks, wafers etc.
Naba Kumar Dhar,Member – Paschimbango Pan Abong Tamak Bikreta Samity said”Our members come from the lowest sections of the society and for most of us, all the members of our family are engaged in supporting our business of micro retailing. We have to work long hours, mostly from 6 am to 11 pm, throughout the year, as the cost of doing business and cost of living keeps on increasing and we cannot survive if we do not cater to the demands of all the customers visiting our shops.” He added,”We are shocked to learn from newspapers about the arbitrary letter issued by Ministry of Health to the Chief Secretaries of States that retail shops that sell tobacco products should not be allowed to sell any non-tobacco product.This is grossly unfair and a draconian suggestion. This will have a life-threatening effect on our families. All our family members are deeply troubled and stressed. Any forced reduction in the products sold by us, will have a severe financial impact on us, as we have regular fixed clientele and some of them will permanently leave us, if we are not able to cater to their needs. In any locality, there is no restriction to the number of petty retail outlets which exist next to each other. If we are forced to sell only one kind of goods, there will not be enough customers to make it viable to earn their livelihoods.”
According to Shri Moloy Biswas, Secretary, Panshimbango Pan Abong Tamak Bikreta Samity “We appeal to the Prime Minister to intervene to protect micro retailers from this new, arbitrary, life-threatening suggestion disallowing any product being sold from our shops.”
“If this suggestion is not rolled back, small retailers will be forced to resort to illegal activities to survive, which will make these susceptible members of the society further vulnerable. This move is against the Government’s promise of ‘Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas’ and will have a mass-scale destructive effect on peaceful jobs and livelihoods. In a democracy, everyone should have a right to representation, before giving verdicts which may have a life-defining impact on them. It is unfortunate, that the Health Ministry has not consulted the petty retailers, nor taken their interests in mind before writing such a letter.
In fact almost in all cases the purchases at the store are made by adults and just by generalizing, it is possible that minors may buy tobacco products at the same store is someone’s figment of imagination. Sale of Tobacco product to minors is not allowed by the Government and in fact there is a penalty for violation of this regulation. Their member follow this rule strictly. They are all aware of this law and have put up boards prominently in our shops in compliance with current regulations.They fear that the present suggestion is a result of lobbying by multinationals who are out to destroy local traders. They appeal that reason for such a communication must be investigated. If this is not withdrawn, they demand the Government to permanent Government jobs to them and their family members so that they can manage to meet their two ends.