State may ban gutkha, but only for a year

It may be a troubled year ahead for gutkha manufacturers — following the Deputy CM Ajit Pawar’s instruction to ban the sale of gutkha in Maharashtra, the state government is toying with the idea of deputing the Commissioner of state for Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to ban the substance. The ban, however, cannot extend for a period beyond a year. If all goes well, the ban will come into effect from July 1, said sources in the state government.¬†

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The deputy CM surprised many in the government when he announced a ban on the substance last Sunday, while addressing a rally organised to launch the Rashtrawadi Yuvati Congress, a new wing of the NCP for young women under the leadership of Supriya Sule. Pawar strongly denounced consumption of the substance, saying that the ban was worthwhile even if the government lost Rs 100 crore in revenues in the process.

Rushing to do his bidding, government officials soon realised that the State cannot propose a long-term ban on gutkha, owing to a case filed by gutkha manufacturers at the Supreme Court, which is subjudice. The only alternative left with the government now is to rope in the FDA commissioner to exercise his powers and impose a ban on the sale of gutkha for a period of one year.

The proposal was discussed at a meeting chaired by the FDA Minister Manohar Naik on Thursday, and will soon be forwarded to the departments of finance and law, as well as the judiciary, before it is submitted for Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan’s approval. The FDA Commissioner, using the provisions of the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006 can issue a ban on the substance citing the use of magnesium carbonate in its production.

The gutkha manufacturers have challenged a notification issued by the Central government under the Food Adulteration Act, which says that no item for consumption with tobacco or nicotine in their contents can be sold. The matter is yet to be settled in court. Even before this, the state government’s decision to ban gutkha for five years could not make it to the stage of legal enforcement, after the Supreme Court ordered against the ban.

While approving the proposal for the ban, the Democratic Front government will have to think about the repercussions, especially the losses suffered in revenue – officials claim that contrary to Pawar’s claims, the revenue income generated through the sale on packaged tobacco products is over Rs 100 crore.

Rs 100 cr
Revenue generated through the sale of packaged tobacco products

States where gutkha is banned
Kerala Madhya Pradesh Bihar

Side effects
>> Gutkha is a carcinogen
>> Excessive consumption can eventually lead to loss of appetite, promote unusual sleep patterns, and loss of concentration along with other tobacco related problems 

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