South Indian state imposes 'fat tax' on junk food

A passenger (right) looks from a bus as a shopkeeper sells sweets at a roadside stall in Siliguri, India, on July 1.
A passenger (right) looks from a bus as a shopkeeper sells sweets at a roadside stall in Siliguri, India, on July 1. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI • India's peaceful tourist hot spot Kerala has become the first state in the country to impose a "fat tax" on junk food in a bid to counter rising obesity.

The state's finance minister Thomas Isaac on Friday announced a 14.5 per cent tax on food such as burgers, pizzas and sandwiches sold at restaurants and fast-food chains, as part of the local government's annual budget. The government said it hopes that the move will not only generate additional revenue for the state but also deter people from consuming junk food.

"There has been an alarming trend in growth of unhealthy eating habits among Keralites and we hope the fat tax will be a deterrent," Mr Rajan Khobragade, the state's commissioner of commercial taxes, told The Times of India newspaper.

However, most high-fat snacks and other fast-food items in India are still sold by largely unregulated street vendors rather than branded chains.

"By imposing a tax, you are making it a little more costly for the customer. Imposing (the tax) is not going to change consumption patterns," Mr Shibu Philips, business head at Lulu Shopping Mall in Kochi, one of India's largest malls, was quoted as saying by The Economic Times.

While India has high rates of malnutrition, lifestyle-related health problems, including diabetes and obesity, are also major issues, particularly in cities.

In 2014, Kerala, situated in southern India, started banning alcohol sales in most hotels with the aim to eventually enforce a total prohibition to "protect youth from destroying their lives".

Earlier this year, the eastern Indian state of Bihar introduced a "luxury tax" on samosas, a popular deep-fried snack, to make up for the loss in the state exchequer from its ban on alcohol sales.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 10, 2016, with the headline 'South Indian state imposes 'fat tax' on junk food'. Print Edition | Subscribe