in a specially-convened court on Saturday, the Bombay High Court upheld the State Government’s ban on the sale of gutka and paan masala in Maharashtra. The ban was imposed on July 19.
The gutka companies vehemently argued that gutka was not a “food” under the Food Safety and Standards Act and Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, so the FDA had no power to ban it.
Reacting to this argument, Chief Justice Mohit Shah ruled, “We find force in the submission that the definition of food in the Prevention of food Adulteration Act and Food Safety and Standards Act includes all food products. It is sufficient for any substance which goes into the mouth to be covered by the definition of food. Just as chewing gum is thrown out after being chewed, gutka is also chewed and thrown out. Even if it does not enter the digestive system, gutka falls under the definition of food in the widest possible sense.”
The division bench also set a September 25 deadline for gutka companies to appeal to the Supreme Court or face the destruction of all gutka packets currently confiscated by the authorities. The court has also declined to allow gutka manufacturers to bring their products into the state for the purposes of exporting them to neighbouring states.
The court in its judgement also noted that more than 98 per cent of gutka samples tested by the government contain a chemical called Magnesium Carbonate used to sweeten the betel nuts. Though advocates appearing on behalf of the gutka companies contended it was a substance which was naturally found in the nut, the court found force in the State Government’s contentions that the naturally occurring quantity of the substance was miniscule compared to that found in the test samples.