Bombay High Court also under fire for interim stay orders

The Supreme Court on Monday removed all hurdles to implementation of Point of Sale Rules on tobacco and tobacco products.

As per the rule, each display board should contain, in an Indian language, a warning that ‘tobacco causes cancer’ or ‘tobacco kills’ and it should be prominently shown in a space measuring 20X15 cm.

A Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and V. Gopala Gowda, acting on an appeal by Health for Millions, vacated two interim orders of stay passed by the Bombay High Court. The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Rules 2004 as amended in 2005 were stayed by the High Court in 2005 and this order was made absolute in 2006.

Justice Singhvi told senior counsel V. Shekhar, appearing for the Centre, that every year millions of people died of oral and lung cancer caused by tobacco and tobacco products.

“The High Court did not apply its mind while staying the Rules because of which serious repercussions are faced by lakhs of people,” the judge pointed out, and pulled up the Union government for not taking steps to get the order vacated.

The Bench said the High Court had passed the stay order without taking into consideration the huge adverse repercussions for the public at large, particularly the poor and weaker sections “who are the largest consumers of tobacco products.” As per statistics, “about 10 lakh people die on account of oral and lung cancer per annum and by 2015 it is estimated that about 85 lakh people will die.”

So the manner in which the Government of India handled the matter in the High Court all these years was “intriguing,” the Bench said. “Prima facie, it gives us the impression that counsel for the Union of India had some other idea as he refrained from appearing before the High Court when the date was fixed for consideration for vacating the interim order.”

Criticising the High Court, the Bench said it should be extremely loath to pass interim orders when the vires of the Rules were challenged. The High Court could not stay a law or the Rules unless comprehensive reasons were recorded, the Bench said, quashing the interim orders and directing the Centre and the States to implement the Rules.

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