Sunday, July 10, 2016

"Fat tax" - Press Trust of India and my vote for "Mr Ruthless" Narendra Modi

Press Trust of India (PTI), the prestigious news agency which had given me passport to land in Delhi in 1998 and take me out of jungles in Nagaland, is in news recently. It's obviously internal matter of an organisation.
Referring to this fact of my life - that has sweet and sour flavour - has become relevant as I want to lay emphasis on a quote from my esteemed senior colleague Shashi Kumar Nair (SK) - mind you this is the NOT THE TV guy! Me and Shashi - we shared tea, Kerala House lunch and room for months.
He was 50 plus - ready to hit retirement bar anytime and I was around 30.

Often Shashi used to say: "ND, do not presume I belong to you or you belong to my camp. Because I am different and I tell you, I don't belong to myself".

Now referring this oneliner is vital as I reflect upon last 10 days in socio-political life of India. 


Narendra Modi has virtually turned a ruthless boss and shunted out Smriti Irani from the high-profile HRD ministry and even made Arun Jaitley shed Information and Broadcasting ministry. Focus on reviving economy and generating jobs - seemed to be the clear message to Jaitley - Modi's Man Friday and a "constant friend since 2002".
In Modi's definition of politics and the power play today, none actually is "safe" - no matter how much an "insider" you are! Jaitley is known to be third most powerful man in Team Modi.

In the meanwhile, my favourite land Kerala also made news with the Marxist-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government slapping "fat-tax". Obesity is stated to be a reason for this 14.5 per cent tax. Trust you - I have mallu friends among journos, half-journos and super-journos -- of all shape, size and look. Coming to looks, when I see mallu damsels - it's the eyes that seem like pool. The magic of coconut oil - I often say to myself and at times to some friends. My wife does not endorse my prejudices.

On a very personal front again, Shashi - friend and a guru - is definitely a 100 per cent mallu --- Malayli --- with all traits and tantrums! But he hated "Marxism" those days and like many from his state did not have very high opinion about Congress either!

But "fat tax" reading made me discover Kerala is second most obese state (with children) after Punjab.  I thought only butter chicken and Chhola Bhatura or Bangla's oil-rich fish curry and Bongs by-birth quality of laziness and "bhat khabo hunger" can only spread obesity! 
1998: Souvenir: When blogger was in PTI 

But Kerala obesity seems a reality and thus the state government wants to discourage more people into eating those pizzas, burgers and etc etc. Importantly the decision came from a Marxist regime -- not known for committing anything wrong? Na?

"There is a strong case to initiate steps to tackle obesity among schoolchildren and adults in Kerala. For instance, a June 2012 study (Indian Pediatrics) of 1,634 children between 6-15 years from three urban schools in Kochi found the prevalence of obesity among boys to be 3 per cent and 5.3 per cent for girls. The prevalence of being overweight was 10.2 per cent in boys and 12.1 per cent in girls. In April 2014, a study of 1,098 schoolchildren in the rural areas of Kochi found 9 per cent of girls and nearly 6 per cent boys to be overweight and 2.8 per cent girls and 3.3 per cent boys to be obese," -- read the way The Hindu (with a history of pro-Left tilt) seeks to justify the move Kerala Finance Minister T M Thomas Isaac.

But a few issue remains - either not answered or postponed for any other day.

Firstly, what was the provocation? Can higher tax really result in lower consumption of saturated items? Will it fetch some revenue to the state exchequer? Will it discourage food processing industry and perhaps more importantly - since this looks like a "populist" measure; will the pressure now mount on other states to take such actions? Will it hamper India's image abroad as a destination hub for big food processing companies and those who deal with ready-to-eat products?

Most of these questions are however related. But let us go step by step.

My humble feeling is mere tax imposition will not discourage consumption of fast food - when Burgers are not only easy to eat stuff; they are also like fashion statement. I do not know any birthday party attended by my daughter in last 3-4 years -- and these parties often come in mushrooming numbers - where she has not got the taste of best of the pizzas, burgers and finger chips. In fact, there is a growing trend when these birthday parties are hosted at burger and pizza hubs. Hosting such gala shows under branded roofs also scale up parents' status in the housing society.

So can obesity be really countered by these taxes? Pizzas and burgers have entered small tows as well and chips are evening snacks - unlike rosogolla and sandesh - in many middle class homes.

So the focus should be more about awareness campaign. In this context, I beg to advise Prime Minister Modi to carry forward his "Swach bharat" campaign a step forward and co-relate it with "Swasth Bharat". Clean India - and Healthy India.

This campaign would make sense as even else where taxation measures have not served any purpose in the long run. The experience from Denmar and Mexico have been discouraging.

In October 2011, Denmark became the first country to introduce a tax on saturated fat. However, it was repealed by the end of 2012. In Mexico,  The Hindu report says, no change in consumption patterns was seen in high socio-economic status households and a modest 10.2 per cent and 5.8 per cent reduction in the consumption levels was seen in low and medium socio-economic status households respectively.

Will the campaign for a healthy India really be carried forward irrespective of party affiliations?

But for the moment, politicians in God's own country -- and the Marxists by upbringing are falling for a double-edged sword. And consumers may still end up paying more and continue to suffer the result of "saturated fat".

Yes, I come back to the relevance of being "ruthless" --- someone who does not belong to any camp. As a male chauvinist - I also have a point to ponder about - should not tiffin box for high school and college boys and girls be revived. But the moot point remains: who will pack that tiffin box and how can you bring in changes to fit into the younger generation taste games!

My wife faces tough times on daily basis. In some kitchens - it can be the men or aging grand mas!

But please think over --- in the name of modernity and progressive walk and money-minting career-building exercise - we have moved out of "joint family malady". 

Nature has maintained its beauty always
Who will then pack the tiffin box? Stop cursing me !

I have already said: As an admirer of my esteemed colleague SK - Shashi Kumar Nair -
I do not belong to myself.

But another post script question: Will Namo in the ultimate analysis win the battle of media control with Jaitley's exit from I&B and also the visible changes in Parliament Street?

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