India is in the midst of a silent health crisis as illicit cigarettes, with dangerous implications for lungs and throats, are beginning to find their way in large swathes of India. Other than hundreds of illegal units manufacturing illicit cigarettes, there are 12134 units registered under the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, which are engaged in tobacco products including cigarette manufacturing units. These units are registered under a special 2015-notified scheme Udyog Aadhar Memorandum (UAM), according to an RTI reply by the ministry.
The RTI reply says that the “Ministry has notified the Udyog Aadhar Memorandum (UAM) on 18th September 2015, a one page online registration system for MSMEs based on self-certification and no additional document is required to be uploaded at the time of filing of UAM.
“Any entrepreneur either in manufacturing or service oriented enterprise can register as MSME online at www.udyogaadhar.gov.in only after establishing the unit, obtaining all regulatory approvals and starting commercial operations. Any activity defined in the certificate is valid provided the activity is under purview of the law, except the activities not covered under MSMED Act 2006, for registration of UAM,” explained a senior government official.
The reply goes on to give the break-up of number of “tobacco products including cigarettes manufacturing units” registered under UAM - Micro 11611, Small 490, Medium 33. According to experts, this defeats the tobacco control policy of the Health Ministry according to which no fresh licenses have been issued to any cigarette manufacturing unit after 1999.
Licensing for manufacturing of cigarettes are issued by Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion (DIPP) of Ministry of Commerce as per IDR Act 1951. However, even in this Act, there are clauses which have loopholes exploiting which companies are manufacturing cigarettes.
According to another RTI Reply by Tobacco Board of India, which supplies virginia tobacco used in cigarettes, “Four companies are registered with Tobacco Board as manufacturer of virginia tobacco and are manufacturing cigarettes based on the certificate issued by Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, using the exemptions available under IDR Act 1951 for the units engaging less than 50/100 laborers with/without the aid of the power.”
Such manufacturers not only evade taxes causing revenue losses to the government, but also pose severe health risks to smokers given that hazardous substances are mixed with tobacco. Other than manufacturing illicit and counterfeit products, such units are also exploiting their status to manufacture popular foreign brands.
Recently Police, District Tobacco Control Units and NGOs across Delhi-NCR have conducted several raids and found such units manufacturing illicit and counterfeit of popular foreign brands, packs of which do not contain the mandatory Health Warning, as mandated by law.