The state government on Monday informed the Bombay High Court that while it would continue to confiscate gutkha being sold or transported in violation of a ban order issued on July 19,it would not destroy the seized products.
Manufacturers pleaded the ban had brought their businesses to a halt,and urged the court to restrain the government from preventing the transport of gutkha to other states that allow its sale.
Dhariwal Industries Private Limited,Ghodavat Paan Masala Products,Rajnandini Foods Private Limited,SDD Agencies Private Limited and Hira Enterprises had petitioned the court urging it to set aside the ban,which invoked the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA),2006.
Arguing for the manufacturers,senior counsel Milind Sathe said that the government notification had,apart from prohibiting the sale and distribution of gutkha and paan masala,also put curbs on storing and transporting gutkha. We want to transport our product to states that have no ban. They (state government) should not take any action against us, Sathe said. Senior counsel Janak Dwarkadas added that the product has a short shelf life.
Sathe said the government had instructed its officers to destroy seized gutkha. He urged the bench to direct the government not to do so until a final decision. Chief Justice Mohit Shah said,But somebody might continue to manufacture.
Government pleader D A Nalavade told the court that gutkha had a shelf life of six months. He said that while the government would not permit the transport of gutkha to other states and confiscate consigments,it would not begin to destroy the seized material until the court heard the case further.
Adjourning the case,Chief Justice Shah and Justice N M Jamdar asked the state government to file its reply by August 7.
Arguing for the petitioners,senior counsel Navroz Seervai told the court that the ban is nothing but an attempt to overrule by legislation a judgment of the Supreme Court.
Entire industries cannot be closed down because of somebodys whims, Seervai said.
The state had earlier attempted to ban gutkha in 2002 and in 2008,but had encountered several legal hurdles. Seervai said that the sale of gutkha,that contains tobacco,can be governed only by the Tobacco Act,2003,and not by the FSSA.
The manufacturers have contended that gutkha,which contains 6-8 per cent tobacco,has no nutritional value and hence cannot be brought under the purview of the FSSA that deals with food. Mere oral consumption would not bring gutkha under the FSSA as it is not consumed for taste or nutrition but for pleasure,the petitioners have said.
Government counsel Nalavade also informed the court that another petition filed by an association of dealers seeking unrestricted transportation of gutkha before another bench of the court,had been withdrawn.