Gutka ban hits business hard in Delhi as sales crash

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NEW DELHI: On Tuesday, Raja Bhai was urging his regular customers to buy gutka in bulk at discounted rates.

The 28-year-old owner of a popular wholesale shop in Naya Bans - Delhi's biggest market for tobacco products - said he wanted to clear his stocks as soon as possible in view of the government ban on sale and manufacture of gutka.

"The ban on gutka has hit our business really hard. It was the most profitable tobacco product and we sold close to 100 packets of gutka - containing 60 sachets each - daily. Today, we have sold only three packets till now. We are contemplating switching over to selling cigarettes," said Bhai. He added, "I support the ban though. It is the right decision and will help save many lives."

Ratan Lal, owner of the 100-year-old Musaddi Lal Ramswarup firm dealing in cigarettes and raw tobacco, besides other things, said maximum supplies of gutka come from manufacturing units in Ghaziabad, Kanpur and other parts of Uttar Pradesh.

"If the gutka ban is not implemented stringently in UP, the ban in Delhi may not be effective. The shopkeepers may stealthily buy gutka products from there and sell them at higher prices," he said. Fearing action, many small-time paanwalas had removed the gutka from display. However, if you asked them for it, they would readily take it out from a box.

"I do not know about the ban," said Rajendra Kohli, one such shopkeeper in Daryaganj.

The Delhi government had announced a gutka ban on Monday and a notification to this effect was issued on Tuesday. Anshu Prakash, state health secretary, said the food safety department has been authorized to collect samples and register cases against traders and manufacturers violating the ban on sale, manufacture and transportation of the tobacco product. "Under the new law, the guilty can be punished with imprisonment of up to six months and a fine up to Rs 3 lakh," said a senior official.

Anti-tobacco campaigners say stringent implementation of the law is important to curb use of gutka.

"Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar are some of the states that have banned gutka already. But due to poor vigilance, many vendors continue to sell the products," an activist said.

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