While efforts of the directorate of food and drugs administration (FDA) to enforce a ban on gutka and tobacco products are yielding modest results, the directorate's efforts are also blunted by various factors.
A recent report by the FDA stated that since October 2, 2005 till date, the FDA has seized gutka and other tobacco-related food articles worth ' 28.46 lakh and booked over 44 cases.
The FDA claimed that it was rigorously enforcing the ban in Goa and food inspectors were regularly inspecting the articles to check for any sale of any tobacco-related food articles in Goa under the Goa Public Health (Amendment) Act, 2005. The officials of the police department as well as the collectorate staff have been notified to exercise powers of search and seizures under the said Act. There have been numerous raids conducted by the police department in Goa, especially at the state's border check-posts.
But the problem is that there is no prohibition on the manufacture, sale and distribution of such tobacco-related food articles in the neighbouring states and these are freely available in the neighbouring states and at the borders of Goa. Since tobacco products are habit forming and induce strong addiction in the users, the possibility of such persons importing the tobacco product clandestinely into Goa in small quantities cannot be ruled out, says the FDA report.
Adding to the FDA's woes, is the fact that as on date, all such offences under the said Act have to be filed by way of prosecution before the court of the judicial magistrate first class (JMFC) and the disposal of such court cases take a long time. As on date, there are no provisions under the Goa Public Health (Amendment) Act, 2005, for compounding of petty offences by small vendors, says the FDA report.
The state's efforts in banning tobacco-related products have had to overcome obstacles. With the interest of protecting the general health of the public, especially the youth, from the hazards of life-threatening harmful products, the state government had introduced a prohibition on the manufacture, sale and distribution of food articles containing tobacco or tobacco extracts in Goa through notifications dated January 24, 2003 and April 7, 2003.
During the enforcement of the said ban from January 24, 2003 till August 2, 2004, gutka and other tobacco-related food articles worth ' 14.21 lakh were seized and a total of 64 cases were booked under the Act. But the state's notifications were challenged in the Supreme Court which quashed them and held that the state food (health) authority had no powers to impose such a ban for an indefinite period of time and that such powers could only beexercised by the central government.
The state government addressed this problem by first enacting legislation under the Goa, Daman and Diu Public Health Act, 1985. Later, the Goa Public Health (Amendment) Act, 2005 was enacted and enforced in Goa with effect from October 2, 2005.
Two writ petitions were filed in the high court of Bombay in Goa challenging the legislation, but the court upheld the state's law. Although the matter has been admitted by the Supreme Court, it has neither granted any stay nor posted the matter for arguments. Hence the ban continues in Goa, the FDA report said.