In one of the major drives in recent times, officers of the Maharashtra Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) recently raided and sealed nearly 81 paan beedi shops in Mumbai and seized banned gutkha and other scented tobacco products worth Rs 15 lakh.
In the raid conducted on May 24 and 25, by 18 specially formed squads, the action was taken against 89 vendors and notices were served on them. Now they will have to approach the court to reopen their shops, Joint Commissioner Shailesh Adhav told The Afternoon DC and added that similar drives will be carried out in other parts of the state too. The sealed shops include those located at Null Bazar, Dongri, Dharavi, Saki Naka, Chembur and Kurla. In the raid, an illegal factory at Null Bazar, engaged in manufacture of tobacco products clandestinely was also sealed.
“In view of the sensitive nature, the drive was carried out with assistance from the Joint Police Commissioner (EOW) Ashutosh Dumbre and DCP Parag Manere, Adhav said and added that during the raid they faced resistance of 100 to 200 persons at every shop, especially in the areas like Null Bazar and Kurla. Since 2012, FDA has seized gutkha worth Rs 114.2 crore. At present the sale of gutkha is a bailable offence with a punishment of maximum six months in prison. In last budget session, FDA minister Girish Bapat had told the state legislature that the sale of gutkha will be made a non-bailable offence.
Maharashtra is on top ranking in consumption of paan masala and 43 per cent of men and 19 per cent of women consume the gutkha and tobacco products. The state earns nearly Rs 100 crore tax revenue, solely from gutkha and paan masala products with industry doing more than Rs 300 crore business. Mumbai too contributes a larger share of that amount. While a debate about tobacco consumption leading to cancer continues, the World Health Organization (WHO) had classified areca or betel nut as carcinogenic to humans even without the addition of tobacco to it, in 2004. Maharashtra government had issued notification banning the gutkha on May 20, 2008. However in response to a petition filed by some tobacco product manufacturers, the court had stayed the ban. After concerted litigation, on September 16, 2012, the Bombay High Court upheld the ban on gutkha and paan masala.
In the same year (2012), the state government banned the Gutkha under the Food Standards and Safety Act, 2006. In the following year, the state banned khaini (flavoured tobacco), supari (processed betel nut) and mawa or kharra (a mix of processed tobacco, betel nut and lime). In 2014, the state government issued fresh notification banning the gutka and extended it for one more year, from July 20, 2015 onwards.