New Delhi smokers coughing mad as city boss bans their fix

Smokers in New Delhi are having a collective nicotine fit. Ever since the Indian capital's chief minister, Sahib Singh Verma, made it his New Year's resolution officially to ban tobacco in public, smokers have been savouring their last legal puffs at the office and plotting how they can get through a normal day without lighting up in view. The ban started yesterday, and violators risk paying up to a 500 rupee (pounds 10) fine, equivalent to a week's average wage, if they are caught.

Elderly men, who often while away the winter afternoons by pulling their rope beds into a patch of sun in the alley and passing around a hookah, accosted Mr Verma in anger to demand that their tradition be respected. But he was adamant: no hookahs, no hubble-bubbles, no bidis (cheap leaf- wrapped smokes), no pipes - absolutely no nasty nicotine habit can be indulged within the city limits, except in private.

Pessimists predicted productivity would decline as addicts nipped out for their fix. From now, Delhi's smokers must stub out their cigarettes in offices, hospitals, cinemas, restaurants, theatres, schools, stadiums, hotels, banquet halls, railway stations, airports, and all public transport. Jaded smokers say they'll ignore the ban and, if caught, cough up a small bribe, less than the fine. A few smokers, mainly women who have been trying to quit, welcomed the laws.

Throngs lining the route yesterday to watch the Republic Day procession march towards the arch of India Gate seemed more jittery than usual. "Fifty years of freedom? Not really," said a business student, Ashwin Chandiok. "Today we can't even smoke outside. Well, they've just lost my vote."

Many residents ridicule the law, especially after environmentalists said last month that simply breathing the air of New Delhi was the rough equivalent of smoking 12 cigarettes a day. While the Health Minister, Harsh Vardhan, said at least 30 per cent of his budget went for treating smoking-related diseases, and that nearly 1 million deaths across India were linked to tobacco, smokers said their contribution to overall air pollution in New Delhi must be laughably small. Doctors at Delhi University blamed the poisoned air, which makes the number of respiratory patients 12 times higher than the national average, and said almost a third of New Delhi citizens suffer from some sort of respiratory complaint. At least 7,500 deaths in New Delhi each year are attributed to pollution.

"It's absurd to ape the West and ban cigarettes here," said Farah Singha, a chain-smoking air stewardess. "You go to New York and it looks like there is some invasion of afternoon streetwalkers, until you discover that it's just the secretaries hanging around outside to smoke during their coffee breaks. India's not like that. With all of Delhi a public place because so many people live in the streets, this ban is impossible to enforce."

Kiran Bedi, a former inspector-general of prisons, tended to agree. She outlawed tobacco three years ago at New Delhi's Tihar jail to try to improve health conditions, but found the 8,000 inmates would go to any lengths for a cigarette. "They resented my no-smoking rule terribly, although it was the best thing for them. They craved tobacco and would risk severe punishment for a single cigarette. Criminals would refer to tobacco as `the beloved'.

"I feared they might riot before they would comply with my new health regulations." Fires broke out when smokers rigged the prison wiring to light their illicit cigarettes after Ms Bedi banned matches as well. An anti-smoking campaign is about to be launched by volunteer agencies, but few expect it to make any real headway. Meanwhile, local environmentalists are concerned about the lack of enforcement of anti-pollution legislation already on the books. This has failed to curb an increase in New Delhi's vehicular pollution or hazardous industrial wastes. Loopholes abound: tens of thousands of kerosene-powered generators kick in daily during frequent power failures and must certainly pollute the air just as much as the ancient two-stroke engines on motor rickshaws or the dung fires that help warm the pavement-dwellers.

For now, the only legal smokers in New Delhi who can light up in public are sadhus, the wandering Hindu mystics who are allowed to pass their hashish-filled chillums with impunity. This week, they are the envy of the strung-out smokers.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little