In a victory for the state government and the anti-tobacco activists, the Bombay high court on Saturday upheld the ban on gutka and pan masala -- both flavoured tobacco products -- in Maharashtra.
Hearing a bunch of petitions filed by gutka and pan masala manufacturers, the division bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice Nitin Jamdar held that gutka and pan masala fell within the definition of "food" under the Food Safety and Standards Act, and the Commissioner of Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has the power to ban them.
The court ordered the state government not to destroy the seized gutka pouches till September 25, so as to enable the petitioners to seek relief from Supreme Court.
The manufacturers claim that production worth Rs 10 crore has been seized after the ban was imposed on July 19.
The high court also rejected the manufacturers' plea that they be allowed to transport their products from Karnataka to Rajasthan through Maharashtra and Gujarat.
HC said such a passage could not be allowed, as both Gujarat and Maharashtra have banned gutka.
Petitioners had argued that gutka was not a "food" under the Act, so FDA had no power to ban it. Dhariwal Industries, one of the petitioners, had also argued that state's notification only banned gutka and not pan masala.
Its lawyer argued that while the state's reason for banning gutka was its harmful ingredients such as zinc, nicotine and magnesium carbonate, the company's pan masala products contained only minimal amount of zinc.
But Advocate General Darius Khambatta said that laboratory tests had showed that pan masala too has harmful ingredients. He likened gutka and pan masala to "poison".
It was the state's duty to raise the "level of nutrition" and standard of living of citizens, he said. While imposing the ban, the government had cited the carcinogenic nature of the two tobacco products.
The judges held that Food Safety Act empowered FDA to ensure that no "food" remains unsafe. It was the duty of the food manufacturers to ensure that they do not manufacture any food which is unsafe for public health, the HC said.