Saturday, 16 July 2016

FAT TAX AND DIABETES: Better option available

Ananda Mohan Kar

 On the Second International Yoga Day, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, gave a call to tackle diabetes. Next month, the Left Front Government in the Sothern Indian State of Kerala imposed ‘Fat Tax’ on the food items that cause obesity and diabetes. The move aimed at reducing the consumption of cold drink and junk food.
Unfortunately, diabetes has emerged as an ‘epidemic’ and urgent measures are needed. But the step taken in Kerala is too little and too late.
 The media has already raised questions regarding the choice of the items. Only the ‘western’ foods have been mentioned. The ‘Indian’ foods, which contain high calorie and excessive fat, are not been touched. So, there is a possibility for a debate on the ‘imposition of nationalism from above.’ However, that is unlikely to happen as the idea of ‘fat tax’ has come from the ‘secular left’ and so the ‘intellectuals’ are expected to remain silent this time.
 But the other challenges are more serious. The monitoring of the market is definitely a tough task to carry out. That apart, the income of the rich, and that of the middleclass, has gone up substantially in the last decade. Therefore, some percentage increase in the price may not bring down the sale of those condemned commodities. Only a change in the food habit is the answer to the problem.
But the cultural change is difficult to bring in, particularly in the era of liberal market economy. Here, the producers are not only to sell whatever they like (except those that are prohibited by law) but are also free to advertise their products.
 So, the Governments in India, both at the Centre as well as at the States, must chalk out new strategy. The Government cannot violate the principles of economy, nor can it interfere in the public choice. But keeping in mind the larger interest, it can bring changes in its own sphere. There are large number of canteens and footstalls in the government office premises across the country. Stop the sale of such food items in those shops. The restriction can be extended the stalls located in the state run railway stations and bus terminuses and to all the educational institutions that receive government fund. At the time of evaluating the Universities and the Colleges, the issue of healthy food should be looked into.
 However, before taking such step, the items to be banned should be objectively identified by the well known specialists in this subject. Otherwise, all the good moves would be lost in the debate over ‘political motive.’

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