Hours after the statewide ban on gutkha and pan masala came into effect on Friday,the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) began surprise and random raids in the city and suburbs. At the end of the day,14 vendors were raided and goods seized from three of them. A senior FDA official said they would be fined Rs 25,000 each for selling gutkha.
The stocking of gutkha and pan masala or their sale will now invite a fine of up to Rs 25,000 for small vendors and Rs 2 lakh and imprisonment of up to six months for retailers and wholesalers,said the official. Over 208 food inspectors will be deployed across the state to keep strict vigil on retailers,wholesalers and petty vendors.
The FDA has also sought the help of other agencies such as police and the civic authorities to help in implementing the ban seriously, said Mahesh Zagade,Commissioner of FDA.
The state government on Friday issued a notification banning the sale and consumption of gutkha and pan masala. The ban will be valid for a year,after which it would be extended for another 12 months as per the Food and Safety Standards Act. The state cabinet had given its nod to the ban last week,following research that pointed to gutkha as a major reason for oral cancer among other diseases.
The sale of gutkha in the state is estimated to be around Rs 300 crore every month,said a government official. It also accounts for Rs 100 crore in taxes annually.
Meanwhile,police constables outside the Mumbai Police commissionerate admitted that they themselves would be among those hit by the ban. We will soon be asked to take action against those who sell gutkha,but over 50 percent of the Mumbai Police constabulary is addicted to tobacco products. During bandobast duty,this is what we chew, said a constable attached to the Commissionerate.
According to senior officers of the Social Service Branch,the ban will lead to some hoarding and black-marketing. At several places across the city,small vendors have begun to look for underground distributors,said officers. Gutkha and pan masala are popular with various communities and the sales cut across class barriers with some business communities among the largest consumers.
In a narrow bylane of Fort,amid the evening rush of commuters heading to the train station,Ashu Sharma has a swelling crowd at his store. “We are aware of the gutkha ban and will stop selling these products from Saturday. I have some stock left which I need to sell off,” said Sharma,who runs a pan shop near VT station.
At the headquarters of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation nearby,a peon said he’d stocked up for a few days. “This is what helps us pass time. Most Grade IV officials are addicts and it will be difficult to get rid of such a habit,” he said.