It has been years since Maharashtra had, in July 2012, enforced a blanket ban in the state on the production, marketing, sale of gutkha and the chewing tobacco products.
However, the banned products are still being sold openly in most pan (betel) stalls located in each nook and cranny of Mira Road and Bhayandar, thus poking fun at the state government ban, even as officials from the local Food and Drug Authorities (FDA) and police personnel continue to turn a blind eye to the illegalities, for obvious reasons.
In fact, traders and vendors are cashing in on the situation, by selling the prohibited products at a much higher price than the maximum retail price printed on the sachets.
The startling on-camera allegations levelled by a local gutkha seller that a few of the policemen attached to the Navghar police station in Bhayandar were not only providing protection but also encouraging the sale of the banned products in exchange of monthly bribes, has recently sent shockwaves in the twin-city.
Although officers from the Navghar police station refuted the allegations as baseless and an act of revenge by the vendor, the ACP of the division has been assigned the task of probing the authenticity of the accusations.
The police and the FDA have been seizing gutkha and scented tobacco products in frequently conducted raids, nevertheless, the racket involving in the smuggling of the banned products into Mumbai, Thane, and Mira-Bhayandar from the porous check-points of the neighbouring states, continue unabated even as the enforcement at the ground level on retail sale remains toothless.
Presently, violators are being booked under relevant sections of the IPC, Food Safety and Standards Act, Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution Act) – COPTA.
Apart from making available ready-to-eat gutkha packets, including those of Vimal, Shikhar, and Tansen, some companies have churned out novel ideas to dodge the authorities by selling gutkha in a new avatar by packaging the chewing tobacco and paan masala in two separate sachets.
When the ingredients of the two packs are mixed, consumers get a substitute for gutkha.
MCOCA remains on paper
Just before the coronavirus outbreak, state home minister Anil Deshmukh had indicated that the government was considering to invoke the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) against kingpins involved in gutkha trade, this apart from action against concerned FDA and police officials where the banned product is found stocked or transported.
However, the implementation is still awaited.