It’s a similar scene outside almost every college in the city a bunch of students smoking while chatting during their tea breaks. The presence of unauthorised vendors and even regular shops selling cigarettes and tobacco products to students has worried schools and colleges. Hence, they have taken up the cudgels against such shops. Institutes from Sion, Matunga and Wadala a major educational hub with several colleges and schools have written to both the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the local police about the issue.
Over the last few days, in F-North ward which covers Matunga (E), has received letters from several educational institutions, complaining against the gutkha- and cigarette-selling vendors and shops close to their premises. Some of the major institutions include Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute (VJTI), R A Podar College, Don Bosco School, St Joseph High School, SIES School and College, and other such educational institutions in and around the area.
In these letters sent to the BMC and Matunga police station (copies available with MiD DAY), the institute heads have mentioned that “sale of tobacco, mawa, gutkha and cigarette packets has increased in and around the vicinity of schools and colleges. The same has to be stopped in order to keep young students from being lured into adopting these vices, which could lead them to indulge in anti-social behaviour.”
As per the Bombay Shops and Establishment Act, 1948, no licensed trades, including paan shops, can sell tobacco products within a 100-metre radius of an educational institute. The initiative to write to the authorities was taken by a local activist, and heads of the institutes lent their full support to the campaign. “Many children are found buying cigarettes and tobacco products from these hawkers and shops. This needs to be stopped,” said Mandeep Singh, the social worker who coordinated with the school and college authorities while filing the complaints.
‘Get rid of the stalls’
Principals called for removal of the stalls selling such products. Dr V M Topkar, director in charge, VJTI, said, “Yes, the letter has been sent to the BMC. But I don’t know whether any cognisance has been taken or not. We have a counselling centre in our college for students to provide advice to them about not indulging in such activities. But if a youngster is heavily addicted, he may easily go beyond 100 metres to buy such stuff. We cannot help such children.”
Dr Shobana Vasudevan, principal of R A Podar College of Commerce and Economics, Matunga, said, “An activist was conducting a drive against sale of such products near campuses. I supported it and signed up for the cause. I believe prevention is better than cure. Sale of such things needs to be stopped near campuses to prevent students from buying them.”
Dr Ajit Singh, principal of Guru Nanak Khalsa College, said, “We have supported the drive. No vendors or shops should be allowed to sell tobacco or gutkha where there are educational institutions. BMC should take strict action against them and cancel the licences of those who are selling it. We have one shop behind our college that sells these products to the students.” On MiD DAY’s visit to a few of these sites, it was found that there were vendors selling cigarettes, tobacco products, peppermints, paan masala and other products. These were temporary stalls set up in a corner near the campuses. Many college youngsters were seen buying the products.
While confirming that they had indeed received the letters, civic officials maintained that over the last couple of days, they had conducted special raids and drives against such vendors. “We have started our special drives since November 18 near these institutions, and have been catching vendors for selling gutkha and cigarettes,” said A Sasane, assistant municipal commissioner, F-North ward (Matunga). According to authorities, every time a BMC van shows up for a raid, the unauthorised vendors pack up their wares and flee the spot.
If the guilty are caught, their wares (wooden slabs and other paraphernalia used to set up shop) are auctioned and the gutkha and cigarette packets are destroyed using chemical powder. However, sources said that many of these vendors pay money and escape only to return to the same spot to conduct business as usual.