Gutkha brought into city on outstation trains

Over the past few weeks, gutkha and paan masala worth over Rs25 lakh has been smuggled into the city via long-distance trains.

With no records available, sources in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which seized the gutkha, have notified the Indian Railways to help them find the culprits.

Last July, the state government issued a ban on gutkha and paan masala on grounds that the Food Safety and Standards Act prohibited any food item that contained tobacco.

For the past one month, the Mumbai FDA has stationed food safety officers at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai Central station and Kurla Terminus in shifts. "Though we made big seizures, we are unable to make any progress in our investigation. There are no records so we can't check who is sending the contraband and who it is meant for," said Suresh Deshmukh, joint commissioner, food, FDA.

There are two ways in which freight is transported by long-distance trains - through licensed compartments where three bogies are leased out to contractors in charge of loading the freight, and non-licensed compartment, which are handled by the railway department. The banned substances, according to the FDA, were found in both.

Atul Rane, senior divisional commercial manager, Central Railway, admitted that except for sample checking or on suspicion, there is no procedure to verify what goods are being loaded in railway compartments.

"It is not mandatory to open every box loaded in the compartments. But it has been brought to my notice that the contraband was brought in through licensed bogies. We will take administrative action against the lease-holders," said Rane.

FDA officials suggested connivance on part of railway personnel. "We have been told by railway personnel that gutkha may have been transported to Mumbai by mistake. How can half a bogie of goods be transported by mistake," asked another senior FDA official, requesting anonymity, as he is not authorised to speak the media.

"We will get in touch with authorities such as the northern railway and ask them to take action against people who are allowing the contraband to enter," said Sharat Chandrayan, chief public relations officer, Western Railway.


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