ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Friday allowed a number of paan masala producers from Sindh to assail before the top judiciary the Oct 3 Sindh High Court (SHC) directive for registeration of cases against those selling “Gutka”(chewing tobacco).
A three-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial, granted permission to different producers of paan masala to file appeals even if they were not a party before the high court when it ordered the authorities to book those selling Gutka and Mainpuri under Section 337-A of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), which deals with causing hurt intentionally.
Soon after the SHC decision, the Sindh government adopted the Prohibition of Preparation, Manufacturing, Storage, Sale and Use of Gutka and Mainpuri Act 2019.
Senior counsel Shah Khawar represented petitioners Raja Haider Ali, Fiaz Ahmed, Adnan Noo and 10 others in the case. The Sindh home secretary, the commissioner of Karachi, the chairman of the Threat Assessment Committee, Sindh’s inspector general of police, the additional inspector general of police Karachi and the senior superintendent of police (security) were named as respondents through a joint petition.
The petitioners sell paan masala under brand names like Steel Tobacco paan masala, Sultan Tobacco paan masala, RJ Tobacco paan masala, Mama Tobacco paan masala, Rajni Tobacco paan masala, Golden paan masala, Super Shaheen Tobacco paan masala, A-1 Tobacco paan masala, JT 7 Tobacco paan masala, Baba Golimar Tobacco paan masala and Bombay Tobacco paan masala.
The petitioners pleaded before the Supreme Court that the products manufactured and marketed by them cannot be equated with highly dangerous products like Gutka and Mainpuri.
The petition conceded that their products contained tobacco, but at the same time contended that these cannot be termed poisonous, suggesting to the government to carry out tests to verify the authenticity of their claim.
The petitioners regretted that under cover of the SHC verdict, the local administration and law enforcement agencies resorted to harassment of the manufacturers through “false and frivolous cases”.
The petition argued that the Sindh High Court cannot direct a prosecuting agency to add any section of PPC in addition to the already mentioned sections of any applicable law.
The high court, the petition contended, had committed an error by issuing directives to police to insert Section 337-J PPC in the FIRs against the producers.
Section 337-J of PPC deals with the offence of causing hurt to a person by means of poison and prescribes a jail term of 10 years to an offender.
Due to the judgement passed by the high court, the petition argued, “manufacturers engaged in a lawful trade and producing registered products have been discriminated against”.
The petitioners alleged that police were harassing and humiliating them by registering FIRs.
They pleaded with the Supreme Court to grant them leave to appeal against the Oct 3, 2019, order by a division bench of the SHC and also prayed to the apex court to set it aside.
In its judgement, the Sindh High Court had ordered the Karachi administration to stop the manufacture and sale of Gutka and Mainpuri by sealing off all factories.
The sale of such “harmful products” has made the residents of Karachi vulnerable to dangerous diseases, including mouth cancer, the high court had been told.
Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2020