Ban on the sale of gutkha and tobacco products in Maharashtra does not seem to apply to railway stations and trains passing through the state. Vendors selling gutkha sachets can be easily spotted in running trains.
At the Pune railway station, vendors selling chikki, biscuits and candies at platform numbers 2,3,4 and 5 also stock gutkha sachets. While FDA officials say their hands are tied as their jurisdiction doesn’t extend to the trains and railway stations, the Railway Protection Force seems to be taking a lenient view of the violation.
At any given time, at least over a dozen peddlers carrying multiple rolls of gutkha sachets can be seen walking around and openly selling them often at a price double than the MRP. Most of the hawkers do their illegal business at platforms 2,3,4 and 5.
According to sources in the RPF, the sachets are mostly bought in bulk by the kingpins from cities like Gulbarga in Karnataka where tobacco products are not banned.
“They travel to Gulgarga and buy several kilos of gutkha sachets and then make visually and physically challenged boys to sell them on the platforms and inside the trains. The kingpins use these disabled boys as they know the police will be lenient towards them,” said a source.
Ashok Kumar Rai, Divisional Security Commissioner, Pune Division, said the RPF was aware of the problem but since disabled children were involved the police found it difficult to take stringent action against them.
“We have increased patrolling on the platforms as well as inside the trains to stop illegal sale of the banned material. We know that visually impaired and disabled boys are sporadically selling gutkha and other tobacco products inside the train and on platforms, and we have often confiscated the material from them. We are devising a plan to root out this illegal activities but will have to take cautious steps as disabled boys are involved,” said Rai.
He said strict action, including suspension, had been taken against on-duty policemen in the past when it was found that gutkha was being illegally sold on the platforms and trains under their watch.