Even as the Pune division of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has conducted 326 raids and seized gutkha worth Rs 4.73 crore between April, 2016, and January this year, its officials have been unable to lodge FIRs against the suspects. In March last year, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court had said that raids and actions initiated by police against persons possessing and storing gutkha were illegal. So, the FDA officials have no other option but to stop lodging FIRs.
Watch What Else is Making News
The FDA has challenged the order in the Supreme Court, state FDA Commissioner Harshdeep Kamble told The Indian Express.
“The Food Safety and Security Act has several clauses, under which the offender can be taken to court. However, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay HC order has termed the action taken by police against people possessing and storing gutkha as illegal,” said Kamble.
He said FDA officials were authorised to file court cases against the offenders, but there was a need to take police action. “Gutkha worth Rs 17 crore has been seized from across the state in the last six months. We need to involve police to take action under the IPC… the government has challenged the order in the SC,” said Kamble.
According to S S Desai, joint commissioner (food), Pune division, the largest amount of gutkha had been seized from Solapur and Pune. Gutkha worth Rs 2.37 crore was seized from Solapur, followed by the seizure of gutkha worth Rs 1.9 crore from Pune.
FDA officials across various divisions admitted that though raids were being conducted, lack of police action against offenders under IPC was a serious concern. “`Most of the times, the offenders remain absconding, despite a court case registered against them,” said one of them. The shortage of manpower in the FDA is also likely to affect its stern drive against the sale of illegal gutkha, said officials.
However, activists fighting against the growing menace of cancer have questioned the lack of police action in nabbing illegal gutkha sellers.
Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, head and neck cancer surgeon at Tata Memorial hospital and a part of Maharashtra Cancer Warriors, said it was unfortunate that the police action has been termed illegal.
“There are so many illegal gutkha sellers. Police enforcement under IPC sections can, in fact, help the FDA strengthen its anti-tobacco and anti-gutkha drive,” said Chaturvedi.