The Supreme Court on Monday set aside the seven-year-old Bombay high court order putting on hold the rules that restricted the scale of advertisement of cigarettes and tobacco products at the point of their warehouse or retail outlets.
The apex court also asked the central and the state governments to vigorously implement the rules.
Describing the high court order against “the larger public interest”, an apex court bench of Justice GS Singhvi and Justice V Gopala Gowda said that it (high court order) was made without considering four indices that there must be “prima facie case, balance of convenience, public interest and irreparable loss” before some statutory provisions framed in larger public interest were suspended.
The Bombay high court on December 19, 2005, and March 27, 2006, granted interim stay of the operation, implementation and effect of Rules 2(c), 2(e), 4, 5(3) and 5(4) of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Rules, 2004, as amended by the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) (Amendment) Rules, 2005.
This order was suspended by the apex court Jan 3 on a petition by NGO Health for Millions.
Rule 4 of the Rules said that the size of the board used for the advertisement of the cigarette and other tobacco products at the warehouse or retail outlet shall not exceed 90 cm by 60 cm and there cannot be more than two such boards.
These rules provided that advertisement boards would carry warning – either Tobacco Causes Cancer or Tobacco Kills, covering 25 percent of the total space. They further said that the board shall “contain only brand name or picture of the tobacco product and no other promotional message and picture”.
Pulling up the central government, the court in its order said that “Union of India had connived with them to make the interim order absolute by non-appearance (of its) counsel on the day order (making its 2005 interim order absolute) was passed”
“This is the inference one gets”, the court said, noting: “Although the notice was issued to Union of India, no one appeared on March 27, 2006, when matter was taken up (by the high court) for consideration for making interim order (of 2005) absolute.”
The apex court said the central government did not take steps for vacating the order “which had huge adverse repercussions on the public at large, particularly the poor and weaker sections of the country who are the largest consumer of tobacco products”.
Taking exception to the way the central government treated the matter, the court said: “We consider necessary to express regrets and seriousness the way Union of India acted due to non-appearance of the counsel on the date the interim order was made absolute. Prima Facie it gives the impression that the counsel had some other ideas.”
“We are sure Union of India will take remedial steps to engage only those counsel who espouse the public cause.”
Citing statistics provided by the government, the court noted that annually 10 lakh people die of oral cancer and lung cancer and by 2015, 85 lakh people will die from these two diseases.