The entire globe is facing COVID-19 pandemic and the death rate on account of gutkha/pan masala and other tobacco products is more than the deaths which are taking place on account of the pandemic.
Making this observation, Telangana High Court on Tuesday dismissed a batch of writ petitions challenging a notification issued by the State government banning manufacture and sale of gutka/ pan masala and other tobacco products. “The notification, which is bound to save human lives, cannot be faulted with in any matter,” a bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice A. Rajasheker Reddy said pronouncing verdict.
The people are suffering from cancer and other diseases and the restriction imposed is in larger public interest. “It is a reasonable restriction and in no way offends the right to carry on trade guaranteed under the Constitution,” the judgment said. The bench said it did not find any reason to interfere with the State government notification on the matter.
On January 6, the Telangana government issued a notification under Section 30 of Food Safety and Standards Act (FSS Act) banning manufacture, storage, distribution, transportation and sale of gutka/pan masala (containing tobacco and nicotine as ingredients) and chewing tobacco products like chap tobacco or scented/flavoured tobacco packed in sachets. Challenging this notification, several traders filed writ petitions in the HC.
While one petitioner’s main business was marketing pure and scented tobacco while others are into the sale of pan masala and other allied products. Their counsel contended that State government’s notification was illegal and ultra vires of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) (COTPA) Act-2003.
It also violated the right to trade guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution, they said. They contended that COTPA, a Central legislation, governs the law on tobacco products. While COTPA is a law specifically related to tobacco products, the FSS Act is a general law covering all aspects connected to food safety. The FSS Act did not define tobacco products. It did not provide for any powers to ban trade and business of such products, their lawyer contended.
Government counsel T. Srikanth Reddy (Home) and Nagesh Bheemapaka (Health) argued that tobacco products came under the definition of food under FSS Act and the government had powers to ban sale of such products. The FSS Act made it clear that no food should contain tobacco or nicotine but the scented or flavoured tobacco products contain the two ingredients, he said.
The bench categorically stated that the FSS Act had overriding effect over all other food-related laws and section 89 of the Act clearly provided this.