The Bombay High Court is on Monday likely to hear five petitions challenging the state governments ban on the sale of gutkha.
Gutkha and paan masala manufacturers have urged the court to set aside the governments July 19 notification and two regulations under the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA),2006,under which the ban was brought into effect.
Dhariwal Industries Private Limited,Ghodavat Paan Masala Products,Rajnandini Foods Private Limited,SDD Agencies Private Limited and Hira Enterprises have petitioned the court. They have contended that gutkha,which consists six per cent tobacco,has no nutritional value and hence cannot be brought under the purview of the FSSA that deals with food. The petitioners have stated that their business has come to a standstill owing to the discriminatory ban that is contrary to a Supreme Court ruling of 2004.
The state Cabinet had,on July 12,taken a decision to invoke the ban on the sale of gutkha across the state. The state had earlier attempted to ban gutkha in 2002 and then in 2008,but had encountered several legal hurdles. The new FSSA has enabled the ban this time.
The manufacturers,however,contested the ban stating that gutkha contains tobacco and its sale would be governed by the Tobacco Act,2003,a Central government legislation. Mere oral consumption would not bring gutkha under the FSSA as it is not consumed for taste or nutrition but for pleasure,the petitioners stated.
Also alleging discrimination,the manufacturers said magnesium carbonate,an ingredient in gutkha,is permitted in various foods. Also,the makers of raw tobacco have been spared the ban,they alleged.
The Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations,2011,do not permit the use of carbonates of calcium and magnesium in foods except in those specifically allowed like table salt,onion powder,garlic powder,fruit powder,soup powder and chewing gum,but not exceeding two per cent.
The monthly sale of gutkha in Maharashtra is estimated to be around Rs 300 crore and the government annually earns more than Rs 100 crore in taxes on it.
A Division Bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice N M Jamdar will hear the group of petitions on Monday.