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Food act silent on seized gutkha

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  • Published 4.08.12

You can’t swallow it and you can’t spit it out. That’s the problem of state food and drug control department officials, who don’t know what to do with over 230 sacks of seized gutkha in the capital after the government banned its manufacture, sale and storage for its carcinogenic content under Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, in July last week.

In Ranchi alone, 130 gutkha sacks were recovered from railway station area and 100 sacks from Upper Bazaar through special crack team raids led by civil police and officials of food control department, amounting to around 2,300kg. As the food safety act is curiously mum about the disposal of gutkha products, the sites from where the banned mouth fresheners were recovered have been sealed.

But absence of disposal guidelines puts a heavy onus on the food and drugs control department for two reasons. The place where gutkha is found must be sealed with locks and proper security. The seal must be airtight to prevent the banned product from finding its way back into the market.

“From Ranchi station, we seized 130 bags of gutkha and 100 bags from the Upper Bazaar area. Few raids were also conducted in Hazaribagh, Deogarh and others, but we don’t yet know the quantity of the seizure. Till now, 230 bags is the biggest seizure. But we are facing a disposal problem,” state food and drug controller T.P. Burnwal said.

He added that they were in a dilemma as they could not stock the seized gutkha indefinitely but did not know what to do in the absence of legal guidelines to dispose it.

Burnwal discussed the problem with officials in Maharashtra. “They suggested that the stocks be burnt after taking written application from the claimants. But the problem out here is that naturally there are no claimants,” said Burnwal.

True, who will come forward and claim to possessing gutkha and issue no-objection certificates before they are burnt, knowing that the claim could land them in jail?

As a last recourse, the law department has been approached. “We have written to the law department to know about the legal procedures for disposing the gutkha,” Burnwal said.

Their problems do not end here, as the sale of gutkha continues clandestinely in Ranchi’s betel kiosks and pushcarts, with the banned product enjoying premium prices.

“A small pouch of Bahar gutkha priced at Rs 3 sells at Rs 8-9. Bura toh daru aur cigarette bhi hai, but log peete hain. Demand hoga toh supply ho hee jayega. (Alcohol and cigarettes are also bad for health but people have them. If there’s a demand, there will be supply),” a betel shop owner said, punching holes in the blanket-ban theory.

Department of food and drug control department knows it well. “Unless the problem of gutkha disposal is addressed, it will be difficult to enforce the ban completely,” said a senior official not willing to be quoted.