Tobacco farmers demand rollback of excise duty

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Hyderabad, Apr 9 (UNI) Stating that the proposed hike will ''wipe away'' 30 per cent of tobacco crop production, farmers from Andhra Pradesh today demanded a rollback of the 'exceptional' increase in excise duty on non-filter cigarettes announced by the Union Finance Minister, P Chidambaram, in his recent budget.

Representatives of the Federation of Cigarette Tobacco Growers Associations, in a statement here, have protested against the hike in excise duty on non-filter cigarettes, ranging from 150 per cent to nearly 400 per cent, arguing that this will completely wipe out the non-filter cigarette segment, which accounts for 30 per cent of the Industry. ''The direct fallout will be a 30 per cent drop in tobacco crop production, impacting the livelihoods of 35 lakh people involved in tobacco farming.'' ''Such a significant reduction in the demand for cigarette tobacco will destroy tobacco farmers,'' said G Seetharamaiah, former Vice Chairman, Tobacco Board, adding that several attempts to grow alternative crops in rain-fed areas has failed to yield the desired results. Returns from alternative crops are too low to be viable,'' Mr Seetharamaiah added.

G Sivaram Prasad, General Secretary of the Tobacco Growers' Welfare Association of Guntur observed: ''At a time when the Government is claiming that farm incomes must be protected and farmers' welfare prioritised, it is strange that it is simultaneously and so readily willing to risk the lives of tobacco growers''.

What was mystifying is that the Finance Minister had considered non-filter cigarettes to be equally toxic as filter cigarettes and imposed an astronomical excise duty while completely protecting bidis and gutkha, which are far more toxic than any other form of tobacco consumption, he added.

Mr Prasad said the Association urged the government either to roll back the hike in excise duty or to reduce the hike to reasonable extent.

The tobacco farmers protesting the budget proposal pleaded that the hike should be limited to the extent of inflationary trends.

They, however, could not succeed in their attempts to meet Mr Chidambaram so far.

UNI DB KVV SR AS1913

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