AS the gutkha and paan masala ban came into effect in the state yesterday, food safety officers had a tough time making paanwalas in the city surrender their stock of the forbidden substances.
There were arguments galore and high drama at many paan-cigarette stalls, with the officers finding burly paanwalas springing off their seats and standing between them and the stalls.
The Food and Drug (FDA) Ministry had announced the total ban on gutkha and pan masala a fortnight ago, but the food safety officers still found it difficult to convince the paan shops that the law mandated they take the products off the shelves.
A team of officers that raided beedi shops found gutkha on display at most of the stalls. A beedi shop in Bandra (East) that was raided by two women and three male food safety officers threw up a surprise as the owners surrounded the officers as soon as they were told selling gutkha was an offence and they must surrender all gutkha packets. The drama lasted half-an-hour, and only after a local police officer intervened did the officers manage to seize the gutkha packets.
“The owners were objecting to the seizure of the packets. We requested them to hand over the gutkha packets to us. It was only after a lot of effort that we managed to seize the packets,” food safety officer Vijay Kumar Gaikwad said.
The officer said in the initial days of the drive, the department would not be filing a case if gutkha was found at a paan shop, but would only issue a warning letter and seize the gutkha packets.
A Bandra beedi shop owner, Mohan Sharma, from whom the FDA seized 57 gutkha packets, said he had been misled by the supplier. “The supplier told us to keep the packets on the shelf. I told him it is banned, but he said there was nothing to worry about,” Sharma said.
Food Safety Commissioner, FDA, Mahesh Zagade said, “From July 20 onwards, gutkha is completely banned in the state. After a thorough study, we found that consumption of gutkha or paan masala for years together leads to acute hyper magnesia and sometimes it leads to cardiac arrest. We don’t want school and college kids to spoil their life by getting addicted to this. Under the new Food Safety Standards Act of India, anybody who sells, hoards or manufactures gutkha and paan masala will be fined.” In the past seven years, 1,173 samples of gutkha or paan masala were collected for tests and analysis, of which 1,153 were found to contain magnesium carbonate as an ingredient. “Research done at Tata Memorial Hospital and a report by the dean of the government dental college, Nagpur, stated that gutkha is carcinogenic and also causes oral sub-mucous fibrosis,” Zagade said. “Under Section 30 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, the FDA commissioner has the power to prohibit the sale of gutkha in the interests of public health.”