Gutka syndicate on Revival Mode in Face of Ban in Assam
The government might have banned chewing tobacco on paper but the on-ground reality is that it is still easily available and even if the ban is implemented in letter and spirit, the syndicate will return to earn huge black money in the process
The government of Assam might be claiming that it is concerned about the health of the citizens and has accordingly banned chewing tobacco in the state for one year. But this move will again only give birth to a syndicate which will earn crores by supplying smokeless tobacco illegally across the state.
“In 2013 when smokeless tobacco was banned, the only thing that happened was that the price of the smokeless tobacco items increased in the state. The claimed ban was never fully implemented,” said a city-based paan shop owner Sanjay Biswas.
Biswas said that the same thing will happen now adding that the paan shop owners has not received any notification so far and have no clarity about the ban.
Greater Guwahati Paan Shop Association (GGPSA) general secretary, Balram Sarkar, talking to G Plus said that it was the paan shop association which requested the government to ban the tobacco which is used for gutka as it is of poor quality and could only be sold to customers if the quality of the tobacco is improved significantly by the companies producing the same.
“Now I hear that they have banned all chewing tobacco. We do not support this. We are still selling it as so far we have not received any notification from the government,” said Sarkar.
But even if it is banned and the paan shop owners do receive a notification regarding it, the syndicate is ready to start the illegal sale of the tobacco across the state.
A wholesale tobacco shop owner said under condition of anonymity that smokeless tobacco like zarda and khaini used to be easily available earlier before it was banned in the state. Even now, there are ways by which it will be easily available to the public.
“People will sell it to the paan shop owners after bringing it from Jorabat in Meghalaya and Silguri in West Bengal,” the owner said adding that there are some giant distributers in the northeast and all of them have godowns at Jorabat in Meghalaya.
The paan shop owners have already started contacting the people based at Jorabat. There are some suppliers who used to bring in smokeless tobacco in small quantities from Jorabat and supply it across Guwahati. These suppliers have already started contacting the paan shop owners again, said paan shop owner Sanjay Biswas.
Another wholesale shop owner described the situation thus: as, according to the state government, smokeless tobacco is banned, so the government does not get any tax from such products. So, a nexus has come to exist which bribes the authorities at Jorabat and Silguri checking points and easily bring the product to Guwahati from where it further gets distributed. People from the nexus procure shop-to-shop orders and deliver the products at the shop itself and the paan shop owners do not have to go to the wholesale market for their purchases.
The police and other authorities fail to enforce the ban fully as the supply of such tobacco happens in small quantities. Meghalaya has not yet banned it and so the Jorabat godowns are legal, but the illegal transportation from godowns based at Siliguri will be affected this time as even West Bengal has banned smokeless tobacco.
The West Bengal government has imposed a complete ban on the production and sale of gutka, paan masala in the state for one year with effect from 7th November 2019. The Mamta Banerjee government of West Bengal has issued a notification to put a complete ban on the manufacture, storage, distribution and sale of gutka and paan masala in the entire state.
As per the reports, the government has taken this step to control the adverse effects of using tobacco. It was found that not only adults but minors were also consuming gutka and pan masala. Earlier, the Mamata Banerjee government of West Bengal had imposed a similar ban in May 2013 for a year, which was not successful.
The only state which has successfully banned smokeless tobacco is Maharashtra.
The Assam government has banned the gutka, paan masala and chewing materials containing tobacco and nicotine for a period of one year in the state under Clause (A) of Sub-Section 2 of Section 30 of the Food Safety & Security Act, 2006, recently. It was also banned in 2014 but was not successfully implemented.
As per the official notification issued by the Commissioner of Food Safety of Assam government, Dr Chandrima Baruah, the prohibition has been made under the regulations of 2, 3 and 4 of the Food Safety & Standards (Prohibitions and Restrictions on Sales) Regulations 2011 of the Food Safety & Standards Act.