KARACHI: Expressing serious resentment over the performance of police to curb the menace of gutka and mainpuri, the Sindh High Court on Wednesday said that the paramilitary Rangers can independently take action against smugglers and manufacturers of the hazardous items to assist the police in their crackdown.
A two-judge SHC bench headed by Justice Salahuddin Panhwar also observed that the Pakistan Coast Guards should also ensure strict action against the smugglers.
The bench directed the inspector general of police to hold an inquiry into the allegations that police were not showing a large part of seized gutka in their record and to call explanation from all SHOs regarding continuity of manufacturing and sale of such harmful items in their jurisdictions.
During the last hearing, the bench had directed the police to launch a crackdown across the province and incorporate a provision of the Pakistan Penal Code relating to causing hurt by means of a poison in the FIRs. The court also expressed displeasure at provincial authorities for delay in making legislation to fix the quantum of punishment for selling and manufacturing gutka and mainpuri.
The SHC asks IGP to call explanation from all SHOs regarding continuity of sale of hazardous items in their areas
At the outset of Wednesday’s hearing, the provincial law secretary submitted that on Oct 5 a proposed draft against the manufacturing and sale of gutka and mainpuri in the province was referred to the standing committee on law and parliamentary affairs with the terms of reference to examine the bill and report back to the provincial assembly within a week.
The doctor in charge of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre’s cancer department, Dr Ghulam Haider, filed a report in court stating that a total of 18,614 cancer patients were treated at the JMPC during the last five years and out of them 9,453 were suffering from mouth cancer.
He stated that betel nuts were also one of the reasons of causing cancer and the provincial authorities may be directed to impose a ban and such items may also be made part of the legislation.
Accordingly, the bench directed the health department to make legislation keeping in view the opinion of the doctors.
Mouth cancer data
Taking notice of the large number of mouth cancer patients at one hospital, the bench directed the director general health and the district and sessions judges concerned to collect details of such patients during the last five years from all the government and private hospitals of the province.
The bench sought a report within a week through its member inspection team (MIT).
A report was also filed on behalf of the IGP regarding cases registered about the sale of gutka. One of the respondents’ lawyers submitted that the raw material for preparation of such hazardous items was being smuggled into Pakistan and the law-enforcing agencies should be asked to stop the smuggling.
A deputy attorney general submitted that Pakistan Rangers, Sindh, may be directed to launch a crackdown against manufacturers and smugglers in the aid of police.
“Accordingly, DG Rangers shall ensure complete assistance to police in cracking down [on] such menace and the Pakistan Rangers may independently take actions against smugglers, manufacturers, which action, however, shall be confined to arrest of culprits and seizure of property etc, while the law, later, shall take its own course as provided by procedure,” the court order said.
The bench in its order further said that the Pakistan Coast Guards must also ensure that strict action was taken against such smugglers.
It observed that the court was informed during the proceedings that around 17,000 tonnes of gutka, mawa and other articles were seized by the police, but only 6,000 tonnes were allegedly shown in the record, which appeared to be “in continuity of the plea of monthly system (bribe)” at the police stations against the sale of such banned items.
Therefore, the bench directed the IGP to call explanations from all the SHOs about continuity of manufacturing and sale of such items within their jurisdictions.
“However, since there is direct allegation of dealing with such huge quantity of gutka in an illegal manner, therefore, we are compelled to order that IGP Sindh shall conduct an inquiry,” it added.
Observing that there was no mechanism of internal policing to check and assess police officers’ involvement in criminal activities, the bench said that this issue must also be looked into by the legislatures and till then the IGP may come forward with some mechanism so as to “eliminate grave charge of monthly system”.
It also issued directions that necessary publication should be made so as to make aware people about the consequences of such menace as well as punishments.
An assistant advocate general said that the maximum punishment provided for manufacture and sale of such hazardous items was six years and one year for those using such items.
The bench said that it hoped this aspect would be considered and quantum of punishment to be determined while making legislation.
Muzammil Mumtaz, one of the petitioners, submitted that the abettors must also be held accountable under the proposed legislation as they were also equally responsible for the offence.
Earlier, the SHC had ruled that the existing laws with regard to the punishment for manufacturing and selling gutka and mainpuri should be enhanced as culprits involved in such crimes were being booked under the British-era laws and set free after imposing minor penalties.
Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2019