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Ban on sale of gutka in plastic pouches ordered

NEW DELHI, 30/05/2010:  A man purchasing paan masala {Gutkha), even as the world is observing " World No Tobacco Day",  in New Delh in New Delhi on Sunday.  May 30, 2010 . Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar.

NEW DELHI, 30/05/2010: A man purchasing paan masala {Gutkha), even as the world is observing " World No Tobacco Day", in New Delh in New Delhi on Sunday. May 30, 2010 . Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered a ban on the sale of tobacco, gutka and pan masala in plastic pouches from March 2011.

A Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly gave this interim direction during the hearing of a batch of petitions filed by manufacturers of tobacco products challenging a Rajasthan High Court order upholding such a ban in the State.

Even as manufacturers claimed that as a result of the ban the whole industry would come to a standstill, the Bench said “let it come,” and asked gutka manufacturers to shift to non-plastic packaging after March next year. “Let gutka become costlier. The public would benefit,” Justice Ganguly observed.

The High Court was acting on a petition filed by the Indian Asthma Care Society to restrain gutka manufacturers from using plastic packaging material. The High Court had also ordered a forensic examination of sachets and consequent imposition of fine if plastic was found in the packaging material.

The Supreme Court, while staying the High Court order, had also sought the Central government's views on plastic packaging for gutka. The Ministry of Environment and Forest constituted an inter-Ministerial committee to examine the environmental and health-related consequences of plastic used in pouches, containers of pan masala, gutka and other tobacco products.

In its report, the committee said plastic pouches were not only sturdier, but also saved significant amount of energy and water and also caused lesser green house gas emission as compared to alternatives such as wood, leather, and paper metal.

After going through the Centre's affidavit, Justice Ganguly observed: “The government is privy to gutka addiction. See the affidavit. These are powerful lobbies.”

Solicitor-General Gopal Subramaniam submitted that a fresh study on the ill-effects of plastic packaging for gutka would be conducted.

Expressing his anguish, Justice Ganguly observed: “The youth of today is imperilled by the government's lack of concern for public health. In some States, where economic prosperity has taken place, young people have been compromised. That is the reality. It is a social problem. Those who govern have to be alive to this problem. It is their duty to see that youth get all conditions for fulfilment. Where is the protest in the student community? Where is the idealism? Even in Bengal, where student movements have been vibrant, there is silence. At least, I don't see any manifestation of it [idealism].”

Justice Ganguly held the State governments responsible for proliferation of shops selling these products in the vicinity of schools and colleges and corrupting the rich Indian culture, particularly among the youth. All this was contributing to the uprooting of our national culture. The society was getting its Ministers and judges from such a pool of youngsters.

“This is governance today. Therefore, there is so much of corruption. You cannot stop corruption. It is absolutely difficult.”

The Bench posted the matter for further hearing on March 9, 2011.


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