The Bombay high court on Tuesday directed the Maharashtra government not to destroy gutka and pan masala packets seized by them pending hearing of petitions filed by several manufacturing companies challenging the ban on sale or manufacture of these tobacco products.
The Food and Drug Authority had seized gutka and pan masala worth over Rs 5 lakh after the state government issued a notification on July 19, 2012 prohibiting manufacture, sale and storage of the tobacco products across Maharashtra.
Aggrieved by this, several gutka and pan masala manufacturers approached the High Court seeking to set aside the notification and two regulations of the Food Safety and Standards Act, under which the ban was brought into effect.
The state government on Tuesday filed an affidavit saying the petitioners cannot challenge the constitutional validity of the regulation in the high court as the said Act and regulations have been made by the central government.
"The regulation has been enacted by the central government. The government of Maharashtra is only the enforcing authority," the affidavit filed by Kamlesh Sankhe, joint commissioner (Food) from the FDA, states.
Justifying that the ban was issued in the interest of public health, the state government has said it is its duty to raise level of nutrition and standard of living among its citizens.
"Improving public health and raising level of nutrition is one of the primary duties of the state government. The government shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of consumption of intoxicating drinks and drugs except for medicinal purposes which are injurious to health," the affidavit states.
A division bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice Nitin Jamdar today adjourned the hearing till August 16 after the petitioner companies sought time to go through the state government's affidavit and file their reply to it.
The government has further claimed that gutka and pan masala contain two to five per cent magnesium carbonate.
"Prolonged consumption of tobacco products leads to acute hypermagnesemia which can be fatal at times. It sometimes causes cardiac arrest, oral sub mucous fibrosis and oral cancer," it states.
The petitions filed by Dhariwal Industries Pvt Ltd, Ghodavat Paan Masala Products, Rajnandini Foods Pvt Ltd, SDD Agencies Pvt Ltd and Hira Enterprises contended that gutka, which contains six percent tobacco, has no nutritional value and hence the product cannot be brought under the purview of the FSSA that deals with "food".
Terming the ban as "discriminatory", the petitioners submitted that their business had come to a standstill owing to the state government's decision to prohibit sale of gutka.