Vendors are selling gutkha pouches at a price higher than the MRP rates.
Even though the Maharashtra government had imposed a ban on possessing and sale of gutka but the product is being sold illegally by paan stall vendors, bakery and general stores. A sting operation conducted by some social workers group revealed that a paan stall vendor was selling a popular gutka brand in Santacruz (E). When they asked for gutka from the vendor he readily sold them the product at inflated prices. Selling of gutka is a non-bailable offence in Maharashtra and there is provision to send the offender to 3 to 5 years imprisonment. However, the legislation is not effectively implemented in the state as gutka is easily procured from neighbouring states.
Social workers revealed that the Gutkha is illegally smuggled from Faridpur, Bangladesh and some regions of Nepal by a company named “Joya Food Products”.
Vakola residents said that youth are getting addicted to Ganja and ‘Meow Meow’ drugs. Since police accept bribe from small time drug mafia’s no action is taken against them.
A paan stall vendor spoke to AV on the condition of anonymity and said, “Some vendors are selling gutkha pouches two to three times more than the MRP rates which is illegal. Those vendors who bribe police men and have political contacts indulge in these activities.”
“Youngsters addicted to the ganja and Drugs are mostly daily-wage earners or unemployed persons. Most of them consume gutka due to peer pressure or financial problems force them to follow the wrong path. They also are responsible for committing crimes.” said another shopkeeper.
A paan vendor from Vakola Bridge said, “Police are aware about the illegal gutka business flourishing in the city. Since they accept bribes hence they are unwilling to take action against offenders. The rate of conviction in such offenses is very low.”
“We have strengthened our operations and the raids on the paan-bidi shops in last couple of days. Yesterday, we booked our 100th case pertaining to the illegal sale of Gutka and other paan-masala items. Charges are filed against offenders selling gutka under section 328 of the Indian Penal Code and also under Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006,” said Avinash Chavan, Senior Police Inspector for Vakola Police Station.
After the demise of former Maharashtra Home Minister, RR Patil due to oral cancer, the state had taken strong measures to curb the sale of gutkha.
State Food and Drug Minister Girish Bapat had said that the government is taking steps to enforce the ban strictly.
“Directives have been issued to the police to book the accused under section 328 (causing hurt by means of poison, etc, with intent to commit an offence) of the IPC which is non-bailable,” he reportedly said in the assembly.
Under the Food Safety & Standards Act, sale of items containing nicotine or tobacco (as in gutkha or paan masala) has been prohibited. As many as 26 states have so far banned gutkha and paan masala, besides five union territories.
“Why is the government turning a blind eye towards the smuggling of Gutkha products? Is it because the state will lose tax revenues due to the ban? The photo of the manufacturer and the establishment address is printed on the gutka pouch but no action is taken against them,” said Sahil Seth a Kandivali resident.
“Consumers addicted to gutka are willing to pay more for purchasing the product. Not only men but women too are consuming the product in large numbers,” he added.