Emulating Kerala and Madhya Pradesh, the state government on July 11 announced a ban on the production, sale, distribution and stocking of gutkha and paan masala. As the ban kicked in yesterday, MiD DAY did a reality check to find out whether the announcement had had any effect in the city or not. Posing as a college student looking for his gutkha fix, this reporter went about asking vendors for a packet of the illegal stuff, noting which paanwalas among those approached were ready to sell despite the ban.
Of the 10 vendors approached in five areas, four vendors sold gutkha to this reporter. At least one of the six vendors who refused did so because he suspected something was not quite right.
Accompanied by a photographer, the reporter went to Lalbaug, Chinchpokli, Parel, Dadar and Matunga. Three vendors were approached in Lalbaug as well as in Matunga, one each in Chinchpokli and Parel, and two in Dadar.
In Lalbaug, the first vendor who was approached, upon being asked for a packet of Manikchand, began looking for one without hesitation, saying he was certain he had it. But on seeing the photographer, he developed cold feet and said, “Don’t have it.”
Asked for other brands of gutkha like RND or Rashri, he did not bother to reply.
The next vendor down the road was unnerved by the fact that a college student was asking for Manikchand gutkha and looked around to make sure no authorities were in sight, then reached into a small wooden cupboard, from where he fished out a packet and cautiously passed it over.
Approached again for more of the same after five minutes, he said he was finished with his stock. When he was told other brands of gutkha would do, he said there was no gutkha with him at all. The third vendor who was approached spotted the photographer, laughed and said, “Don’t have it.”
In Chinchpokli, a vendor who was approached for Manikchand said he did not have any. Asked to give a different brand, Vimal, the vendor obliged, asking, “How many (packets)?” Told to give just one, he asked in a disappointed tone, “That’s it, just this much?”
In Parel, the vendor approached was young enough to be a college student himself. He said he had no gutkha products. Pleading with him did not help, as he simply repeated he did not have any gutkha products at all. A bystander warned this reporter that gutkha was banned.
In Dadar, the first vendor who was approached also stated he had no gutkha in his shop at all. Asked if he at least had the RND brand, he said, “RND is out of the market.”
The second vendor approached in the area was close to a signal where a policeman was regulating the traffic. But the presence of a policeman nearby did not deter the vendor from handing over a packet of gutkha, no questions asked. The stuff was stashed in a bag instead of being displayed out in the open.
In Matunga, one vendor was sitting right opposite the King George’s School, in violation of the law prohibiting sale of tobacco products in the vicinity of schools. As he talked on the phone, he was approached for two Manikchand packets. He obliged immediately, reaching into a plastic bag where he stocked all gutkha products.
Approached again after some time for two more packets of Manikchand, he once more gave the stuff, charging Rs 10 for a packet.
Two more vendors in the area were approached, but they said they did not keep any gutkha. On being urged to give at least one packet, one of them said, “How can I give you anything when I don’t have it at all?” Agreeing with him, bystanders said gutkha had now been banned.
To see if the vendor was not selling gutkha only to underage college students, the reporter requested other people to buy a packet for him from the same vendor. The vendor did not oblige, saying he was out of stock.