Though gutkha products are widely available in Tamil Nadu, the State only has a few small-scale manufacturers. Most products are brought in from Bengaluru, which has some manufacturing units; and as per the addresses mentioned on the packets, a bulk of the goods is manufactured in North India, police and intelligence officials explain.
The products are transported in vegetable trucks, expensive cars, trains, containers of parcel service providers, and private buses, and enter the State early in the morning, the police say, adding that the distribution points are changed regularly to avoid detection.
The ban has pushed the trade underground, leading to a deeply-entrenched network in the State, explains Dr V Surendran, head of the Psycho Oncology Department and Resource Centre for Tobacco Control, Cancer Institute, Chennai.
Sometimes, the banned products are transported along with other consignments in private wagons attached to trains. “Opening such bundles may result in the Railways having to pay for damages incurred during such inspections. There are such practical difficulties,” he points out, referring to his interactions with Railway officials.
An intelligence official says most of the seizures have taken place in Madhavaram, which has many godowns, and at St Thomas Mount and Koyambedu. An Egmore police officer, who recently seized 575 kg of the banned goods, said delivery agents have also been brought under the police lens.
In 2017, the then Leader of the Opposition MK Stalin and his legislators displayed banned gutkha sachets in the Assembly, highlighting its availability despite the ban. After winning the 2021 elections, the DMK government stepped up the crackdown on the menace.
Health Minister Ma Subramanian recently set a two-month deadline for Food Safety officials to completely enforce the ban across the State. The officials were told to seal shops with the help of the police and local administrators.
Additional Director and Additional Commissioner of Food Safety Dr KC Seran asserted that it is “possible to enforce the ban absolutely, and it will happen soon”. Between the last week of July and first week of August, the Tamil Nadu police seized gutkha products worth `6.04 crore and arrested 4,049 people across the State. In Chennai alone, 357 people were arrested.
The alleged scam
In July 2017, when reports of a gutkha scam surfaced, the Income Tax department searched the residence of Madhava Rao, owner of MDM brand of gutka, and found a diary mentioning details of bribes allegedly paid to former ministers and former IPS officers to overlook the illegal sale of such products in the State. The case is being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org to report gutkha sale in Tamil Nadu CPB