Disregarding fervent pleas by manufacturers of chewable tobacco products, the Supreme Court (SC) directed the government on Tuesday to ensure that gutkha and paan masala are not sold in plastic pouches.
The order must be complied with by March 2011, a bench of justices GS Singhvi and AK Ganguly said. The judges asked the Union government to conduct a survey to ascertain what ill-effects the products have on human health and environment.
SC ignored pleas made by gutkha manufacturers, who feared that such a direction could “lead to closure of thousands of gutkha and paan masala manufacturing units”.
“Let it come,” a stern bench quipped.
The bench also directed the Centre to finalise and enforce within eight weeks Plastic Management and Disposal Rules, 2009. It rued that despite the rules having been framed in 2009, the authorities were yet to enforce them.
The bench passed the direction while adjudicating a petition by a civil society, which has approached it challenging the alleged unbridled sale of gutkha and paan masala material in the country, seriously impinging upon public health.
According to an estimate, gutkha and paan masala worth around Rs10,000 crore is sold in the country annually.
On October 19, solicitor general Gopal Subramanium had said in an affidavit that multilayered packaging consisting of inert polymeric materials, which are recyclable, was not harmful to the environment.
However, he raised concern that incriminating littering of plastic waste, including gutkha sachets, and lack of a system for segregation and collection of plastic waste had tremendous adverse impact on the environment.
The Jaipur bench of the Rajasthan high court had in August 2007 ordered a forensic examination of sachets and imposition of fine if plastic was found in the packaging material.
NGO Indian Asthma Care Society had sought a ban on the use of plastic by gutkha manufacturers in sachets. It had also sought to invoke the ‘polluter pays principle’ and imposition of fine on manufacturers of gutkha, tobacco and paan masala.
Till two years ago, over 5 million children under 15 were addicted to gutkha. A survey in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh revealed that gutkha caused mouth cancer in 16% of children.
Statistics show that every year, 8 lakh new cancer cases are registered, 3.2 lakh of which are of head and neck cancers largely attributed to tobacco habits.
An alarming 1 million of the 4.9 million tobacco-related deaths reported worldwide annually are from India.