The Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government now will book gutkha manufacturers under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA). With the imposition of the Act, anyone found involved in supply, manufacture, storage, distribution, transport and sale in the state is likely to face stern action.
Narayan Lad, Assistant general manager of Salaam Bombay Foundation said, “This issue was raised by Minister Ajit Pawar way back in 2012 but then nothing could be done. Now Mr. Pawar has again raised the topic and has put the same under MCOCA. It is a very good thing and we Salaam Bombay Foundation welcome this initiative and agree to cooperate with him in his endeavour. Because of this great initiative all officers will come together and put an end to this activity of selling these spurious things in black.”
A meeting to this effect was held on Wednesday in the presence of Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar. The meeting was also attended by home minister Anil Deshmukh and minister for food and drug administration Rajendra Shingne along with other senior officials. Issuing an order, Deshmukh directed action against Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials and police officers if gutkha was found stored in their area of jurisdiction then strict action would also be taken against those officers. Also, warned the companies who are promoting liquor and tobacco with other subsidiary products in advertisements.
“We are contemplating this move as the ban has not been effective in the State from 2012 onwards. The existing laws are not strict and the accused get away easily by paying some fines. We will come down hard on those involved in illegal smuggling and production of gutkha,” according to a statement issued by minister.
Dr. Pankaj Chaturvedi from Tata Memorial Hospital said, “When the government banned Gutkha in 2012 under the authority of Food and Drug Administration (FDA), these people violated the rules and started selling Gutkha illegally. That is time when FDA was facing manpower shortage for inspecting millions of shop where the Gutkhas were being sold. However, now with the imposition of MCOCA, things have brightened up making it easier for the police force to get after these people.”
He further stated that, “The advantage of MCOCA is that people are afraid of the police officers. It’s a very good move by the government. This move will not only curtail unhealthy life and habit, but will also reduce the number of people suffering from cancer in Maharashtra. The other state also should follow this.”
The consumption of gutkha, pan masala, scented supari has been causing a bad effect on school and college going children. Not only that, consumption and spitting off the remains on the walls of office buildings, roads and outer side of the locals gave a bad effect on people going up and down the stairs.
When AV contacted a pan vendor he smiled and said, “When there is a demand there is a supply. We get the supply of these Gutkhas from the distributors, hence we are selling them”.
Another vendor said that he knows that a strict law is being enacted. “My stocks come from Vashi. I will sell off my stock as far as I can, but if situation gets bad, I will stop selling them. After all who wants to take risks.”
When asked if he knew that MCOCA was being imposed, he replied in the negative by saying that he doesn’t know that MCOCA has been imposed.
It may be remembered that the last government had imposed strict laws regarding the manufacturing of gutkha in the state. In case if the contraband was caught, the officials of gutkha manufacturers would release the same by giving a bribe.
The state Maharashtra has been imposed ban of gutkha in 2012 however, was not being implemented owing to pressure from a powerful gutkha lobby, and smuggling from neighbouring States. After the announcement of ban the officials has seized gutkha worth ₹171 crore. As per report, 3,727 FIRs has been filed in Court and still 4,600 court cases are pending.
The state has also imposes a jail term of six months on sale of tobacco, while selling it is a bailable offence under the existing laws. In the year 2018, the government had announced in Assembly that the punishment was raised to three years in prison and the offence made non-bailable.