Mumbai: The Bombay High Court has directed the Food and Drug Administration commissioner to file a detailed report within four weeks on the status of cases relating to violation of regulations on packaging, distribution and sale of cigarettes.
This was after hearing a PIL sought the implementation of regulations to ensure that tobacco products are not sold to minors, and statutory warnings are displayed on the pack, among other things. The PIL was filed by the NGO, Crusade Against Tobacco.
The HC also asked FDA's zonal commissioners to file affidavits on the steps they had taken against foreign-made cigarette packs which violated rules.
The petitioner, Vincent Nazareth, chairman of Crusade Against Tobacco, has alleged that branded foreign cigarettes are being sold without a statutory health warning on the pack and only a few public offices have put up signboards to prohibit smoking.
He also said that there are 85 brands of foreign-made cigarettes entering the country, either legally or through smuggling, which do carry statutory health warnings as required under Indian law. In addition the imported cigarettes do not have details of the date of manufacture or the MRP.
Apart from this shops and establishments dealing in tobacco products are not displaying any requisite warning board and vendors are freely selling such products to minors, said the petition.
The excise and customs department in an affidavit told the court that cigarettes can be freely imported, subject to NOC from the port health officer and a few other regulations.
On smuggling of cigarettes, the department said that 29 cases of seizure had been registered in the last five years and action had been taken according to the procedures, except in two cases which are pending. The Court found the figure unbelievable and said that the department's reply appeared more of paper work rather than actual implementation of law.
According to the government an 11-member Maharashtra State Anti-Tobacco Cell was formed in 2004 to oversee the implementation of tobacco rules while food inspectors of the FDA are empowered to confiscate such products. It said 1,296 cases were registered in the last three years. Besides, police officers of the rank of sub-inspectors were empowered to initiate proceedings.
The court has also asked the FDA officials to submit a detailed report on the action initiated. The court also directed the principal secretary of the Maharashtra medical education and drugs department to ensure that the court's directions are followed.