December 20, 2018 / 9:13 AM / 3 months ago

Delhi city govt lifts ban on Bloomberg-funded tobacco control charity

NEW DELHI, Dec 20 (Reuters) - A small Indian non-profit group funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies can carry out tobacco-control work in New Delhi after authorities lifted a ban on its activities, according to a city official and government memo seen by Reuters.

Authorities in the Indian capital banned the Socio Economic and Educational Development Society (SEEDS) last month, saying it had not disclosed its funding. They also said foreign-funded groups would need approval to conduct anti-tobacco activities in the city.

The decision irked anti-tobacco activists and came amid similar moves by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s federal administration, which has tightened surveillance of foreign-funded non-profit groups since 2014, saying many of them work against India’s national interests.

SEEDS wrote to the city’s health secretary, saying it was “aggrieved” by the ban order it described as a “sad chapter” in tobacco control, according to its letter.

On Tuesday, the city government said its previous order “stands withdrawn with immediate effect,” according to a directive seen by Reuters.

A spokeswoman for Bloomberg Philanthropies, Jean Weinberg, did not respond to a request for comment.

Reuters reported last year that India had investigated how Bloomberg Philanthropies, founded by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, funds local non-profit groups for anti-tobacco lobbying. (reut.rs/2gnoZzn)

SEEDS chief Deepak Mishra said he welcomed the government’s decision to lift the ban.

Delhi’s health secretary, Sanjeev Khirwar, told Reuters the ban was reversed because it had been issued “without necessary approvals”.

The city’s chief tobacco control officer S.K. Arora told Reuters this month the ban on SEEDS’ tobacco-control activities was aimed at promoting funding transparency.

Last Friday, Arora was relieved of his tobacco-control duties in the department, a memo showed. That was part of a “routine” administrative reshuffle, Khirwar told Reuters.

Asked to comment, Arora told Reuters: “I am feeling very much demoralised,” he said, declining further comment.

Arora had in the past written letters to tobacco giant Philip Morris International Inc and other companies for alleged advertising violations at city's kiosks. (reut.rs/2EtWOZw)

This year, he won a World Health Organization award for his tobacco control efforts.

Federal and state health ministries in India have over the years promoted tobacco-control, launching several campaigns to deter its use. More than 900,000 people die each year in India due to tobacco-related illnesses. (Reporting by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Darren Schuettler)

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