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Cop actions on gutkha illegal: High Court

Aurangabad: The Aurangabad bench of the Bombay high court has said raids and actions taken by the police against people possessing and storing gutkha were illegal.
Quashing the police action against some applicants and petitioners for possessing and storing gutkha after carrying raids under various sections of the IPC, the court on Friday observed, “The food safety officers were not prohibited from proceedings against the applicants/petitioners under provisions of chapter X of the Food and Safety Standard (FSS) Act, 2006.”
It said, “Since all these criminal applications and criminal writ petitions are taken up for final hearing by consent of all the parties and as the point raised in all these cases is more or less similarly placed, they are disposed of by this common judgment. For the purpose of disposal of the cases, we the bench utilised facts of Writ Petition No. 1027 of 2015 as representative.”
The petitioners had approached the high court through lawyers including R R Mantri, Rameshwar Totla and Rahul Totla, while the government was represented by additional public prosecutor Archana Gondhalekar.
As many as 13 criminal writ petitions and applications were filed in the Aurangabad bench of the HC, challenging the police actions such as conducting raids and seizing of gutkha and pan masala in different parts of the state.
The food security officials had subsequently initiated registration of offences against the petitioners under sections 372, 373, 188 and 328 of the IPC.
While passing the order, the bench of Justice A V Nirgude and Justice Indira K Jain said the police action in these cases were illegal. The bench observed, “By no stretch of imagination, manufacturing and possessing gutkha and pan masala would amount to administering poison.”
It added, “The commissioner (FDA) opined that its sale is not in public interest. This opinion is based on various reports, but not the report of the food analyst appointed under the provisions of the FSS Act. Therefore, it cannot be said that gutkha and pan masala are stupefying, intoxicating or unwholesome drug. Besides, offering these items of food would not amount to intention to cause hurt. The provisions of Section 328 of the Indian Penal Code to the present cases is therefore impermissible.”
The bench noted the contention of the petitions that “on May 14, 2015, the petitioner was found transporting large quantities of pouches of tobacco, which is called ‘gutkha’ in common parlance, pouches of pan-masala in a truck. The truck was stopped by the food security officer, Osmanabad. The officer not only seized the goods but even lodged a police complaint, alleging that the petitioner had violated the government notification (dated May 15, 2014), prohibiting certain acts pertaining to gutkha/pan masala and thereby committed offence punishable under sections 26 and 30 of the Food and Safety Standards Act, 2006.”

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