Watering down the smoking habit

By T S Sudhir

T G Venkatesh, industrialist-turned-politician and MLA from Kurnool, is almost like a king in those parts. And locals say, a brave one at that, given that very few industrialists have ventured into investing in this part of Andhra Pradesh. His Rayalseema Alkalies is one of the most prominent industrial units in the violent Rayalaseema region and is the local producer of Rexona soaps.

Venkatesh who has been MLA from Kurnool town, from Telugu Desam earlier and now the Congress, has become a minister for the first time, incharge of minor irrigation. A Vysya, he was tipped to be a minister when fellow castemate K Rosaiah was at the helm of affairs. But with Rosaiah apparently not allowed to induct, transfer or remove anyone during his 14 and a half months at the Secretariat, Venkatesh could do nothing but wait. His prayers were answered ironically when a Reddy became chief minister.

Why I am blogging about Venkatesh and not on any other member of the Kiran Kumar Reddy cabinet is because unlike his other colleagues, who are sulking over their portfolios, he has got into action mode right away. And his first decision interestingly, has nothing to do with his portfolio.

Incidentally, it is in connection with the same initiative that I first met Venkatesh some ten years ago. I had travelled from Hyderabad to Kurnool to do a story on how this industrialist at both his factory and hotel in Kurnool was on a mission to curb smoking.

At his units, employees who are smokers get a particular sum of money as an incentive not to light up. The amount is deposited in the bank account of the employee’s wife. Venkatesh says over the years, the incentive has been increased from 300 to 500 to 1000 rupees and so far, 19,430 persons have been the beneficiaries.

The incentive of 1000 rupees every month is given to his employees on their written oath that they have given up smoking. Venkatesh claims the monthly bill is as high as 20 lakh rupees.

“I have set up a corpus just to take care of this. But let me add this is not charity. The entire incentive amount is deducted from their salary if they resume smoking or found to be cheating. In fact, depositing the money in the wife’s account works well because she then ensures her husband does not start smoking.”

Now the same scheme is to be introduced in the minor irrigation department of the Andhra Pradesh government. All the smokers among the 28000 employees in his department will be identified through a survey and they will then get 1000 rupees as immediate incentive and another 1000 rupees will be added to their PPF account. And no, it is not the cash-strapped government but Venkatesh who will fund this drive.

“I will also write personal letters to them every month to motivate them to keep away from the habit. We will even give certificates to non-smokers which will be recognised in their service file during performance appraisal for promotions etc,” says Venkatesh. And to those who look at this initiative as nothing but a publicity stunt, Venkatesh as though reading their mind, says “look at the spirit behind the campaign.”

Will this initiative land Venkatesh in the health minister’s chair next? Watch this space.


About t s sudhir & uma sudhir

Uma Sudhir and T S Sudhir are senior journalists, based in Hyderabad. Both work for NDTV. Uma is a Tamilian, who was educated in
This entry was posted in Andhra Pradesh, Health, Human interest blogs and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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