Cops cannot take action on gutkha traders, rules HC
Only food inspectors have the right to take action against illegal retailers
A Bombay High Court (HC) order has effectively declared any police action against people possessing and storing gutkha as illegal, stating that only food safety inspectors have this right. Over the last three years, traders in Pune had come under the police scanner and cops, acting on tip-offs, have conducted raids and booked offenders under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code.
Many traders had objected to this suo-motu action by police, with 45 cases filed against traders since 2013, when the state banned sale, manufacture and storage of gutkha.
The raids, however, showed that the ban remains mainly on paper and Pune continued to receive a huge stock via the Goa-Karnataka route.
The HC held that police action under various sections of the IPC, applied on people possessing and storing gutkha was illegal, and under the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006, only the food safety inspector had the powers to take action.
A division bench of justices AV Nirgude and Indira K Jain, while quashing criminal complaints against 21 people from Pune and other parts of the state, issued this order.
The court also objected to Section 328 of the IPC being applied in such cases, which states that retailing gutkha would amount to administering poison and is a non-bailable offence.
Advocate Rajesh Kavediya, who represented traders in the HC and sessions court, said, "The city police misused the law and arrested many traders, some of them faced police and judicial custody for several months. The sections applied by the police were stringent due to which judges did not risk granting immediate bail. With this HC order, misuse of power by the police will stop, else they are liable to face contempt."
Advocate Sujit Mundada said, "Over 45 cases were registered by the police and crime branch in the past couple of years. Police need to pay an attention towards the issue of law and order and trade of narcotic substance, but by conducting raids on small traders, which is not their job police only harass the community," said Mundada.
Talking to Mirror, joint commissioner (food) of FDA’s Pune division, Shashikant Kekre, said, "We heard about the order and will conduct raids on illegal trade of gutkha. If required, we will take help from the police."
An officer attached to the crime branch, requesting anonymity, said, "It is true that police were taking arbitrary action against gutkha traders, but we will rectify this. Instead, we shall pass on information to the FDA officers to take appropriate action according to provisions in the law."