The Supreme Court on Thursday asked Solicitor-General Gopal Subramaniam to seek instructions from the Centre whether the new pictorial warnings on tobacco products would be brought into effect from June 1, 2011, as per the December 20, 2010 notification.

Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia, heading a three-judge Bench, also questioned the intentions of the new notification issued by the Health Ministry.

The Bench, which included Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar, was hearing petitions filed by the Health for Millions Trust challenging the new notification deferring the implementation till June 1.

Senior counsel Anand Grover, appearing for the petitioner, said the pictorial warnings were to be rotated every year as stated in Rule 5 of the Packaging and Labelling Rules 2008. In pursuance of the mandate of law, the Union of India issued a notification, dated March 5, 2010, stating the warnings would be rotated on June 1, 2010. However, on May 17, 2010, the implementation date was extended to December 1, 2010.

Mr. Grover argued that the Centre — realising it did not have the power to extend the implementation date — issued a notification on December 20, 2010 amending Rule 5 and prescribing a two-year period of rotation. The amendment was made ex-post facto cover up an illegality, namely the notification extending the effective date to June 1, 2010, and there was no power to issue a corrigendum. The warning had been extended time and again since 2006, at the behest of tobacco companies, counsel alleged.

Even assuming that the December 20, 2010 notification was good in the eyes of law, the rotation of pictorial warnings should come into effect from June 1, 2011, Mr. Grover said.

It was in this context that the CJI wanted the Solicitor-General to take instructions from the Centre. He pointed out that the matter had already been adjourned several times, and every time the court was told that all arguments of violation of Articles 19(1) (a) and 21 were academic and that the warnings would be brought into force on December 1, 2010. Further hearing is posted to January 31.