Shimoga, Karnataka, Apr 1 UNI | 4 months ago

A proposed ban on arecanut, though dropped by the Central government, is still agitating the minds of cultivators to such an extent that it may affect Congress' prospects in this Malnad belt in the April 17 election to the Lok Sabha, political analysts say.

Shimoga, which receives copious amounts of rainfall and with the Tunga and Bhadra rivers flowing throughout the year, is land of arecanut, paddy and plantation crops.

The voters are all set to elect their representative to the Parliament who can fight against any move to ban cultivation of the nut, much in demand among betel leaf chewers as well as in the form of ''supari''.

Any visitor to the constituency would hear angry outbursts over the Central government's proposal to ban arecanut based on a research finding that its consumption may lead to cancer.

They claim that arecanut has been used in households for centuries, especially during religious ceremonies. Consumed along with betel leaves, it also purportedly had medicinal value to benefit the digestive system and strengthen the teeth.

''We cannot dream of performing pooja during festivals or daily prayers without betelnut and green leaves. We are growing arecanut trees and earning our livelihood for ages. Banning it is meaningless and we will not allow such a move,'' Mr Manjunath, an arecanut grower at Holehonnur village told UNI.

Asked whether it is the main issue in the April 17 election, he said, ''Why should the Congress come up with such a proposal. Is it to take away our livelihood?''

Shimoga, Dakshina Kannada and Uttara Kannada contribute more than 75 per cent of the arecanut production in Karnataka.

Most of the voters were of the strong opinion that a ban should not be imposed as it will deprive livelihood not only of growers but also affects several lakh agriculture labourers.

When arecanut grower Devappa was told that the Centre has
dropped the move and Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has written to Karnataka Chief Minister, he said ''how can you believe that they will not go ahead with the ban. We want a person who fights if there was any such a move.''

Mr Azad, in the letter, had referred to the submissions made by the Additional Solicitor General in the Supreme Court in the matter of Ankur Gutkha vs Indian Asthma Care Society and Others and had stated that ''while taking note of your concern in the matter, may I bring to your kind attention that the submissions referred to were based on a strict scientific evidence of the injurious impact of the regular use of gutkha, tobacco, pan masala and similar articles on the human health.''

Mr Azad said he could not state further on the subject as the matter was pending before the Supreme Court. ''However, let me allay your fears by saying that our attempt will be to seek a practical solution to the issue and there is at present no intention to ban production and cultivation of arecanut and its customary usage, per se.''

When the news about the proposed ban broke, Karnataka had witnessed widespread protests by various political parties and e arecanut growers and producers demanding its reconsideration.

(Posted on 01-04-2014)