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'Cops refuse to file FIR in gutkha, pan masala raids'

Despite being the first state in the country to ban gutkha and pan masala in July last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorities haven’t been able to curb the illegal sale of the substances completely.

Earlier, action against offenders was taken under the Food Safety and Standards Act. However, as it wasn’t stringent enough, the FDA officials began approaching the police to lodge FIRs to make sure that miscreants were punished.

Districts like Satara, Sangali, Kolhapur and Solapur come under the Pune FDA division. Sources say that in all these districts, cops are refusing to register FIRs if they are not involved in the raids.

According to Sangali FDA officials, gutkha worth lakhs was seized in four raids in the district but FIRs couldn’t be registered as police claimed that sections under which action could be taken for selling or manufacturing of gutkha were non-cognisable and there was a provision for this in the Act.

According to acting Assistant Commissioner (Food) from Solapur, Ramakant Mahajan, the problem had also surfaced in Pandharpur when they had conducted raids at 19 places and gutkha was sized from 10. When FDA officials approached the police, they reportedly said that the former should contact and take them for the raid, only then will an FIR be registered.

“We waited at the police station for four hours but the police did not register an FIR,” he said.

Other sources claim that such incidents have happened around 15 times in various areas of Solapur.

On the other hand, cops have registered FIRs in some places in Sangali. However, they are refusing to do so in some parts of the same district.

“Gutkha worth lakhs was seized in four cases,” said Sukumar Chaugule, Assistant Commissioner (Food) from Sangali. “When we went to get an FIR registered, the police refused to do so. At one place, cops said that there was Food Safety and Standards law to tackle the issue with a provision for punishment. At another centre, we were told that the sections under which the FIR was to be made are actually for non-cognisable offences. Hence the FIR cannot be registered.”

However, a week later, cops registered FIRs in two out of the four cases, said Chaugule.

Shashikant Kekare, Joint Commissioner (Food), Pune, said, “The Karnataka border is the entry point for gutkha. Strong police action will curb illegal practices and control activities.”

Commenting on the issue, Mahesh Zagade, Commissioner, FDA, said “We have just started lodging FIRs and the process will be smooth in some time.”

The other side
Dilip Sawant, SP of Sangali, refuted the allegations. “This is not true. We are lodging complaints. Some officials might be spreading false information.”

Echoing his sentiments, Rajesh Pradhan, Superintendent of Police, Solapur, said, “I am not aware about the matter. FDA officials should inform us about the issue.” 

What is Food safety and Standards Act of India (FSSAI)?
w FDA registers case against Gutkha sellers and distributors under Food Safety and Standards Act of India (FSSAI). According to FSSAI regulation 2.3.4, a product not to contain any substance that may be injurious to health: Tobacco and nicotine shall not be used as ingredients in any food products.

FDA raids in 8 months
>> Region — Pune, Solapur, Kolhapur, Sangali, Satara
>> Total gutkha seized — R 2.5 crore in 8 months
>> Number of FIRs lodged — 27 (out of which 15-17 FIRs were in Pune alone) 

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