BENGALURU: Following the Supreme Court directions, the State government on October 24 last year banned the sale of flavoured chewing tobacco that is sold in sachets as an alternative to the now banned gutka.
Five months on, only three manufacturing units have been shut in the State, an RTI query filed by Express revealed. Though there is a countrywide ban on the same, Food Safety Commissioner of Karnataka Subodh Yadav told Express that there was confusion in interpreting chewing tobacco as “food”, which is why no cases were being filed under the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA).
This is surprising considering that the apex court has clearly said that since chewing tobacco is consumed, it should be considered food. However, according to FSSA, no food can contain tobacco or nicotine.
The RTI response revealed that since the ban, 26,02,829 sachets of chewing tobacco were seized between January and March 24 this year. According to the November 24 circular, the nodal officer for the district along with food safety officers should implement the ban.
According to the RTI reply, there are 36 designated officers in the state and all are on deputation. So technically, the posts are vacant, according to Yadav. Among 244 sanctioned posts for food safety officers, 79 are vacant and 101 are taluk health officers on deputation.
The circular states that the list of manufacturers and packagers is to be procured from the department of industries and should be circulated to district implementing officers (deputy commissioner, superintendent of police and health officers).
When the MSME section of the department was contacted, officials said they had written to district officials but got response only from some districts on the number of units. Neither the food safety commissionerate nor the department of industries have consolidated data on the number of units.
Dr Vishal Rao, member of the high-powered committee on tobacco control, said, “No state authority maintains the number of chewing tobacco manufacturing units. We don’t maintain information on which districts have units. There are at least 15. Also, not a single case has been filed under FSSA. Fines are imposed under Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act, which has got nothing to do with chewing tobacco ban.”
The officers are supposed to invoke Section 59 (Punishment for unsafe food) and Section 66 (Offences by companies). Yadav said, “Filing cases under FSSA is difficult because the sections cannot be inferred in a straightforward manner. Since chewing tobacco is not swallowed and is technically spit out, we have difficulty in inferring sections under the Food Safety Act.”
According to the order, all officers should submit action taken reports of implementation of the ban to the joint director of FSSAI. Yadav added, “Food safety officers should work even on public holidays. Before I came in, no daily reporting happened. Now it does.” But daily reports are not being filed. FSSAI had no updated information when Express contacted it.