Over three tonnes of seized gutkha sachets sealed in plastic bags are stocked on the fourth floor of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) building in Bandra-Kurla Complex. The total seizure from 16 raids since July 20 when the state government imposed a ban on gutkha and paan masala is valued at Rs 78 lakh.
According to officials,the security staff has been updated on the audit with a special vigil kept on the seized commodities. The stock has been deliberately kept on the fourth floor,which is otherwise vacant,as the stench can be overpowering. We are waiting for the court order on the disposal. It will be a lengthy procedure, said Suresh Deshmukh,Joint Commissioner,(food),FDA.
The Bombay High Court is currently hearing the matter,with the next date being August 16. The state had filed an affidavit defending the one-year ban,including the products under the definition of food under the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA),2006. The manufacturers had challenged the state government on the grounds that their product,since governed by the Cigarette and Tobacco Act,2003,does not come under the ambit of the state-imposed ban.
If the court approves disposal,we will have to get the sanction of eight state government departments,including the city police. The seized products will then be buried at any of the garbage dumping yard approved by the BMC under the supervision of health officers. There are procedures for this and we will have to follow them, said Deshmukh.
With the dispute being in court,manufacturers have also started distributing circulars to vendors claiming that gutkha does not come under the ambit of the FSSA as it doesnt have magnesium carbonate.
We are aware of this and will continue our raids. If a vendor is found with banned products,he is liable under the Act and the state-imposed ban, added Deshmukh.
Staff shortage is another issue that the FDA now faces as 45 of the 66 sanctioned posts of safety officers are vacant. We are relying on the Mumbai Police staff to gather information on places where these goods are being stocked. We have intelligence coming from our safety officers but this is a big fight and we will need the help of the police. One of the consignment was seized after intelligence from Mumbai Crime Branchs Ghatkopar unit, he added.
FDA is also targeting its resources on stockists and bigger warehouses. At least that way we are going for the bigger fish. Once the word spreads,small vendors will stop stocking.