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The health ministry has appealed to the finance ministry that the government should not own any stake in tobacco companies, Health Secretary C K Mishra said on Thursday.
The appeal is against the backdrop of criticism from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and activists that the government has been heavily investing in ITC, while arguing that tobacco could kill.
ITC did not wish to comment.
According to ITC's September filing with the stock exchanges, Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) had a 14.3 per cent stake; National Insurance Company, 1.2 per cent; Oriental Insurance Company, 1.5 per cent; General Insurance Company, 1.8 per cent; New India Assurance (NIACL), 1.8 per cent; and the Specified Undertaking of Unit Trust of India (SUUTI), 11.1 per cent.
In VST Industries, a Hyderabad-based cigarette manufacturer and distributer, NIACL had a 1.8 per cent, according to the filing.
The health secretary's statement comes at a time when the COP7 summit is round the corner where 108 parties will debate and deliberate on tobacco regulations. At the end of the summit, a Delhi Declaration will be signed by those part of the deliberations. The tobacco farmers in India have held protests in the capital, as no tobacco manufacturer cannot be allowed to be part of the deliberations according to the COP7 policy. The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control secretariat and the health ministry have said they were not "denied" access but the rules do not allow these farmers, as they would have views totally different from what governments and other stakeholders would have.