The Allahabad High Courthas ordered the UP government to implement central government’s directions under the Food Safety Act to restrain manufacturing, sale and distribution of ‘gutka’ or other products containing tobacco as an ingredient in the state and inform the court after 14 days steps taken in compliance of the order.
Fixing October 10 as the date filing compliance report, the court, in its order passed on a public interest litigation filed by India Dental Association, also said that if the state government failed to act within in stipulated time, it may be consider to pass an order banning gutkha.
Earlier, standing counsel for the central government submitted before the court three letters sent by the special secretary, union ministry of health and family welfare, between May-August 2012 directing the UP government to prohibit the sale and distribution of gutkha or pan masala containing tobacco, in the light of the provisions of the Food Safety and Standards Act putting restrictions on adding tobacco and nicotine to any food product.
In response, the state government on September 10, filed an affidavit in the court assuring that it would take necessary action to ban the sale of guthka in UP in 14 days. However, contrary to its assurance, the UP government has not banned gutkha so far. As a result, a division bench comprising Justice Amar Saran and Justice Anurag Kumar, which is hearing the case, in its order observed that as many as 13 states have already imposed ban on manufacture, distribution and sale of gutkha.
Also, it said, no stay orders by the high courts of those states or the Supreme Court on decision to ban gutkha by any state has been passed. The high courts of Madhya Pradesh, Mumbai, Kerala and Patna have affirmed the decisions of their state governments imposing restrictions, it said. “There can hardly be any dispute that use of gutkha is highly addictive and causative of oral cancer and periodontal and other diseases including being a risk factor for strokes and cardiac arrests and that according to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey India (GATS) 2010 an estimated 20.6 crore Indians are using this harmful product which poses a grave health risk to our people in general and to the younger generation in particular.
It is also stated that India enjoys the dubious distinction of being the oral cancer capital of the world due to the high levels of smokeless tobacco use,”” the bench stated in the order.The court recalled that UP government had earlier assured on May 23, 2012 that it is seriously considering prohibiting the sale of gutkha.
“But instead of putting a ban on the manufacture and sale on gutkha, the UP government has lowered the tax so as to facilitate increased sale of this product. We have already expressed regret over this development in our on September 10,” the bench said. In the light of thse facts, the sincerity and commitment of the UP government to care for the health of citizens by restricting the use of gutkha which is a health hazard is under examination now, the court stated in the order.
The court also observed that the Right to health is a fundamental right flowing from the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Article 47 casts a fundamental duty on the State to improve public health, and to endeavour to prohibit consumption of intoxicating substances which are injurious to health. The state government counsel told the court that there is no doubt that gutkha is harmful but only the central government can put a restriction on its use. However, court’s view was that both the central and state government are responsible for enforcement of the Food Safety Act.