The Indian government is standing up against reported "pressure tactics" being employed by the $11 billion tobacco industry ahead of the November 7-12 World Health Organization (WHO) conference on the Global Anti-tobacco treaty: Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
Delegates from about 180 countries will aim to revise the treaty that has been in force since 2005. The treaty aims to deter tobacco use that kills around 6 million people a year.
The industry in India, the world's third-biggest tobacco producer says tough FCTC measures will threaten livelihoods among the estimated 46 million people linked to the sector and hence want Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to soften its stance.
To this effect, industry and farmer groups wrote to officials across government, requesting them to be allowed to attend the WHO FCTC conference and be part of India's delegation. The agriculture ministry also received a near-6,000-page petition signed by more than 100,000 farmers seeking protection from FCTC rules.
The event has also been criticized for lacking transparency as the past proceedings have been closed to the public and industry representatives. Discontent is also simmering in the industry, as measures imposed this year, has forced tobacco companies to print bigger health warnings on tobacco products.
This month, a tobacco farmers' group questioned the legality of India implementing the FCTC treaty and also asked the Delhi High Court to allow stakeholders entry into the conference proceedings. A judge last week asked the government to "consider" the plea, but did not rule on the other requests.
"If we take them in the delegation, the Government of India may feel embarrassed. We will not act on these (lobbying documents)," one anonymous health ministry official was quoted saying to Reuters.
On Thursday, nearly 1,000 tobacco farmers staged silent protests in Delhi, outside the federal health ministry and the WHO regional office.
Meanwhile, WHO FCTC Convention Secretariat in Geneva said that it welcomes India's stand, while adding that no country should have delegation members linked to the tobacco industry.
Conference decisions on treaty provisions - designed for eventual implementation at national level by signatories - have a direct bearing on the global tobacco industry that Euromonitor International estimates is worth $784 billion this year.
Topics for debate at conference include alternative livelihoods for tobacco farmers, e-cigarettes and trade and investment issues.
Smoking kills more than 1 million people a year in India, BMJ Global Health estimates. The WHO says tobacco-related diseases cost the country $16 billion annually.