Should Life Insurance Corporation invest Public Money in tobacco companies?

Should government-run companies invest in tobacco firms? This is the question that Voices of Tobacco Victims (VoTV), a campaign for cancer patients, has raised after its recent query under the RTI Act revealed that the Life Insurance Corporation of India has invested up to Rs 3,500 crore in various tobacco companies.

“It’s the greatest irony that the government spends Rs 10,000 crore on treatment of tobacco-related illnesses while investing Rs 3,500 crore in the industry causing it,” said Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, a senior cancer surgeon with Tata Memorial Hospital who is associated with VoTV.

On Thursday, VoTV circulated copies of the RTI reply from LIC dated July 15. LIC has mentioned that it has equity shares in tobacco major ITC Ltd worth Rs 3,561 crore, debentures worth Rs 50 crore in Dharampal Satyapal Ltd and equity shares in VST worth Rs 15.65 lakh.

VoTV wants the government to take an anti-tobacco stance especially since it was among the first to ratify the global anti-tobacco framework. The framework was worked out by the UN after it was medically established that tobacco products are harmful and could cause cancer.

“Considering that over eight lakh Indians die every year due to tobacco-related diseases, the government should keep away from such investments,” said Dr Chaturvedi, adding that the Norwegian government had taken such a stance.

LIC’s Vipin Anand felt that the issue was being blown out of proportion. “ITC Ltd can no longer be considered a tobacco company. It has diversified into FMCG, hotels, books, etc and it also has social responsibility programmes such as Chaupal for rural India. We have had its stocks for long and they carry a lot of weight in the stock exchange,” he said.

Regarding LIC’s investments in Dharampal Satyapal Ltd, he said, “Like ITC Ltd, this company too has diversified immensely. It has a presence in the hospitality sector as well as infrastructure.” However, he added, LIC has been offloading its investments in the third company, VST Industries, since 1993.

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