SC bans plastic gutka sachets from March 1

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Old 08-Dec-2010
SC bans plastic gutka sachets from March 1

New Delhi December 8:

The Supreme Court put the Rs 3,000-crore gutka, pan masala and chewing tobacco industry, peddling their products in Re 1 pouches and sachets, in a crisis-like situation when it said they will have to shut shop if they do not stop using plastic as packaging material for their products by March 1 next year.

The court linked the order to the fight against cancer and said that unlike government, it could not remain a mute spectator to the public health menace. Castigating the government, a bench comprising Justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly said the Centre's affidavit "supported" the gutka industry. "Why is the government allowing manufacture of gutka and pan masala? Is it a health tonic? Worldwide, it is known to be hazardous to health," it said.

"All gutka, tobacco and pan masala manufacturers are restrained from use of plastic in their sachets. This direction will come into force from March 1, 2011," the Bench said. Public health experts have long held the easy availability of gutka, pan masala and chewing tobacco as the chief factor behind the spread of oral cancer. The bench also ordered the government to entrust an independent agency to test the contents of these sachets to evaluate the risk they pose to consumers.

The panel is to file a report in the SC before March 9, 2011. The bench expressed concern that till date, the government had made no attempt to find out the composition of the products inside the sachets and accepted the suggestion of solicitor general Gopal Subramaniam that these would be subjected to stringent scrutiny by a team of experts from National Institute of Public Health.

The bench said India was fast becoming the cancer capital of the world with 70,000 diagnosed cases of mouth cancer in 2008. "Consumption of gutka and pan masala by school and college children is a matter of serious concern," it added. The order came after a long hearing on the appeal filed by gutka and pan masala manufacturers challenging a Rajasthan HC order banning use of plastic sachets.

The HC had also directed all gutka, tobacco and pan masala manufacturers to strictly comply with provisions of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition, Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003, which came into force from February 11, 2007. The SC had stayed the HC order on September 7, 2007.

It not only vacated the stay, except the part on imposition of fine on violators, but also expanded the ban to all manufacturers across the country. When Subramaniam took pains to clarify that he had brought into focus the health aspect before the government, the bench said he was, in terms of being sensitive to public health, an exception in the government which had overlooked serious public health concerns for the sake of revenue.

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