The ban on sale and manufacture of gutkha in the State has come as boon for the traders who are demanding double the price for such tobacco products in the North Odisha region.
Though many shops have taken off colourful gutkha pouches from their stands in the heart of towns like Balasore, Bhadrak and Baripada, such packets are still found hanging in front of the shops in rural markets.
Besides, traders seem to have adopted back door practices to continue their business and avoid action. Consumers alleged the shopkeepers, citing the recently enforced law, were demanding ` 5 per pouch against the cover price of ` 1.
Despite repeated allegations, the tobacco products are being sold near schools, colleges, temples and all other barred places in broad daylight, poking fun at the State Government’s ban.
A habitual consumer Manas Biswal said the traders are, in fact, cashing in on the ban.
“They charge almost double the actual price for each pouch. Nobody is complaining. The customers are happy to shell out the money as long as they get their favourite brand to chew,” he said.
Small vendors selling tea and snacks also stack their counters with popular gutkha and paan masala brands. According to sources, Balasore town consumes more than 50,000 pouches of gutkha and paan masala, everyday.
Following the notification of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), a statutory body under the Union Health Ministry to handle food-related issues, the State Government has banned gutkha, paan masala and tobacco products in Odisha from January 1.
The FSSAI regulation says food products will not contain any substance, which may be injurious to health. Tobacco and nicotine shall not be used as ingredients in any food product.
Social activist Dilip Parida said just banning the sale of gutkha is of no use. The companies preparing these products should be targeted first.
It seems people are also not aware of the ban and its consequences. They say the law is not so stringent for which the shopkeepers are taking its advantage.
Surprisingly the district administration, which is supposed to execute the ban is yet to receive the guidelines prescribed by the Health Department. CDMO Saraswati Behera said they had only received one letter about the ban on the sale and manufacturing of tobacco products.
“We have not received the guidelines on how could we enforce the ban and what are the procedures to impose fines or initiate action against the offenders. We hope the guidelines will reach us soon,” she added.