The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered a ban on the sale of tobacco products like gutkha and pan masala in plastic pouches from March 2011, while asking the government to conduct a survey on the ill effects of these products within eight weeks.
A bench of justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly also asked the manufacturers to explore and decide by March next year on the alternative material for packaging them.
The bench issued the directions while brushing aside the pleas of some of the gutkha manufacturers who feared that such a direction could lead to closure of thousands of gutkha and pan masala manufacturing units.
"Let it come," the bench quipped when counsel for one of the manufacturers claimed that the whole industry would come to a standstill.
Cigarettes, which are generally sold in paper packs, are out of the ambit of this ban.
While asking the government to conduct a survey on the ill effects of these tobacco products, the bench also asked it to examine the effects of packaging these products in plastics pouches over human health.
The bench recorded an undertaking from Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium that the government would get the required survey done by the National Institute of Public Health on the harmful effects of gutkha, pan masala and other tobacco products and also the adverse effects, if any, of the plastic pouches used for packaging the material.
The bench also directed the Centre to finalise and enforce withing eight weeks the Plastic Management and Disposal Rules 2009.
It rued that despite the rules having been framed in 2009, the authorities are yet to enforce them.
The bench passed the direction while adjudicating a petition by a civil society, which has approached the apex court challenging the alleged unbridled sale of gutkha and pan masala material in the country, seriously impinging upon public health.