NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court agreed to hear today itself a batch of petitions challenging the Karnataka High Court order which quashed the government regulation that packets of tobacco products must carry pictorial warning covering 85 per cent of packaging space.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul considered the submission for urgent hearing on the appeals filed against the high court verdict and said it would hear the plea at 3.30 PM.
Several petitions including the one filed by NGO Health for Millions Trust have challenged the high court verdict.
The high court had on December 15 struck down the 2014 amendment rules that mandated pictorial health warnings to cover 85 per cent of tobacco product packaging space, holding that they violated Constitutional norms.
The high court had, however, made it clear that the 40 per cent pictorial health warning rule, which existed prior to the amendment rules, would remain in force.
The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Amendment Rules, 2014 (COTPA) came into effect from April 1 last year.
In May last year, the Supreme Court had transferred all petitions against the 85 per cent rule filed in various high courts to the Karnataka High Court and asked it to hear and dispose of them.
Passing its orders, the high court had held that the Union Health Ministry does not have any jurisdictional power to make such rules.
From the perspective of tobacco growers, such a rule violated the Right To Equality under Article 14 of the Constitution because there was no connection between the images and the warnings, the high court had observed.
The petitioners, the Tobacco Institute of India and others, had challenged enforcement of the COTPA which required printing of pictorial health warnings covering 85 per cent of tobacco product packages.
The petitioners argued the rules were impractical and would boost smuggling of imported cigarettes.
The tobacco industry had said there was no evidence to show smoking causes the diseases depicted in the "extremely gruesome and unreasonable" pictures.
The bench observed that the rules cannot be made to scare people but to issue notifications.
The industry also said the global average size for graphic health warnings (GHWs) was only about 30 per cent of the principal display area.