On April 14, 2017, a PIL (Public interest litigation) was filed against the Insurance companies and the policy of Union Government, that have investments in the tobacco companies like ITC, in the Bombay High Court by Sumitra Hooda Pednekar, wife of the late Satish Pednekar, Maharashtra’s former minister who died, in 2011, of oral cancer. The other petitioners were Tata Trusts’ Managing Trustee R Venkataramanan, doctors of Tata Memorial Hospital and some other officials.
The petition seeks to stop insurance companies from investing in Tobacco companies and to divest their shareholding from tobacco sector and not to make such investments in the future. Petition wants the government to make new policies for the insurance companies, like Life Insurance Corporation (LIC), New India Assurance Company (NIAU) and Oriental Insurance Company (OIU), not to invest in the tobacco sector companies anymore. The petitioners alleged the investment made by the insurance companies to be contradictory to Anti-Tobacco campaigns run by the government.
A bench of Chief Justice Dr. Manjula Chellur and Justice G S Kulkarni asked the government to reply regarding this petition on April 16, 2017.
Now, reading between the lines, it is revealed that the petition doesn’t include mutual funds investment in the tobacco industries. According to the sources, the mutual funds hold shares worth Rs 14,000 crores in tobacco industries including ITC (Indian Tobacco Company) as the major tobacco company holding shares of Rs 13,500 in mutual funds.
According to WHO reports, “Tobacco is one of the major causes of death and disease in India, accounting for nearly 0.9 million deaths every year. Tobacco use is a major risk factor for many chronic diseases including cancer, lung diseases, cardiovascular diseases and stroke. Nearly 275 million adults (15 years and above) in India (35% of all adults) are users of tobacco, according to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey India, 2009-10. The most prevalent form of tobacco use in India is smokeless tobacco and commonly used products are khaini, gutkha, betel quid with tobacco and zarda. Smoking forms of tobacco used are bidi, cigarette, and hookah. India is the second largest consumer of tobacco and the third largest producer of tobacco.”
“The government can utilise the amount locked up in a socially undesirable investment for carrying out its stated budgetary plans as far as citizen’s health is concerned,” the PIL includes.