Smoking ban, really? Do we care, ask Kolkata residents

December 2nd, 2008 - 11:51 am ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Dec 2 (IANS) It’s been two months since a ban was imposed on smoking in public but here, in this crowded and chaotic metropolis, the ban order seems to have gone up in smoke with the enforcing agencies loathe to cracking the whip and lack of cooperation from citizens.Take, for instance, young government employee Ashish Mitra, indifferently smoking inside a fast food centre while waiting for his noodles to arrive. Asked if he is aware of the ban, Mitra said: “I am aware of the ban. But if others are not abiding by it, why should I?”

Bus stops tell the same tale.

Jadavpur University student Piyush Sinha was merrily puffing away at a cigarette at the bus stop opposite the varsity.

If not abiding by the ban, wasn’t he at least aware that the smoke was bothering a child standing next to him who was coughing?

“Is it so? I thought the child has a bad cough. Anyway, if my smoke is bothering her, her parents should take her away. As for the ban, if it was meant to make people quit smoking, then what about private places? At home also we have passive smokers,” a combative Sinha argued.

“As far as I know, the police have to slap fines if they come across violators of the ban. I am smoking before the patrolling officers of the Jadavpur police station; so why aren’t they penalising me? Why don’t you bother them instead of me with your queries?” he queried.

When asked how many people have been fined so far for smoking in public, an officer of Jadavpur police station told IANS: “We still don’t have orders to do so.”

A visit to the state-run hospital SSKM brought this correspondent face to face with a middle-aged nurse furiously puffing away.

“Don’t try to preach…I am aware of the ban…it says ‘No Smoking’ inside hospitals. I am standing near the gates and so what’s the harm?” said Shampa Banik, a nurse at SSKM’s paediatric department.

“Besides, my duty hours are over and I need to restore my mental condition after the hectic schedule before going home,” she added.

On his part, West Bengal Public Works Department Minister Kshiti Goswami claimed the smoking ban has been successfully implemented in government buildings.

“Smoking has been completely banned at the (state secretariat) Writer’s Building and all government offices. As per reports so far, the ban has been successful. But it will take some more time to enforce it all over,” Goswami maintained.

Police Deputy Commissioner (Headquarters) Vinet Goyal admitted that the people seemed least bothered about the dangers of smoking.

“As for the Kolkata police officers, none of us smoked in public even before the ban was implemented. As for the common people, as long as they are not ready to accept the ban and cooperate with us, it will never be successful,” he contended.

“It’s not that all of them are unaware of the ban, but they are not bothered,” Goyal added, even as he refused to give any reason for the police not fining the offenders.

Echoing Goyal, Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya said such bans cannot be enforced unless the people are willing to comply with them.

Asked about the measures taken by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) to make the ban effective, Bhattacharya told IANS: “This kind of ban cannot be enforced by law…it has to come from within.

“We can only impose a penalty, but a fine is not equivalent to awareness. People themselves are unwilling to obey the ban, so to what extent can we push ourselves?” the mayor wondered.

The Indian government Oct 2 banned smoking in public - in government and private offices, educational institutions, hospitals, parks, airports, train stations, bus stops, hotels, restaurants and roads, among other places.

(Sreya Basu can be contacted

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