By Nirendra Dev
One of my favourite Indian states, Kerala, made news lately with the Marxist-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government slapping “fat-tax” on junk food.
Obesity is stated to be a reason for this 14.5 per cent tax. Trust you – I have mallu (Malayali) friends among journos, half-journos and super-journos — of all shape, size and look. Coming to looks, for Kerala damsels – it used to be their eyes, I always feel, that contain the magical power of coconut oil.
My wife does not endorse my prejudices. She need not.
But “fat tax” move made be read some stuff. That made me discover that 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!
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 — and thus this can be linked to anti-industry sentiments of CPI-M and other Left parties too.
“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,” — ran a report in The Hindu almost justifying the move of 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 oil 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 towns as well and chips are evening snacks – unlike rosogolla and sandesh – in many middle class Bengali homes in West Bengal and north eastern states.
So the focus should be more about awareness campaign. In this context, I beg to advice 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 in the world such taxation measures have not served any purpose in the long run. The experience from Denmark 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 newspaper 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.
Do we need Grand Moms again?
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”.
In the meantime, 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!
The mothers have a responsibility as homemakers. Now that’s also a vanishing art.
My wife faces tough times on daily basis. In some kitchens – it can be the men – I do not mind or the 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” also.
Who will then pack the tiffin box? Stop cursing me !
— With apologies from a male chauvinist – who enjoyed grand mom’s tiffin decades back, and for years.
No burger can beat that!