In an interim relief to cigarette companies, the Bombay high court has held that the Centre’s recently amended rule of a mandatory pictorial warning covering at least 85 per cent of the area of cigarette packets, cannot be implemented retrospectively and, thus, directed the Maharashtra government to release stocks worth hundreds of crores seized over the last month from the warehouses of several cigarette companies.
A bench of justices VM Kanade and MS Karnik observed that the new requirement to expand the pictorial warning on cigarette packets to 85 per cent would apply only to products manufactured and packed on or after April 1, the date of the enforcement of the new rule.
Till April 1 this year, the cigarette companies were to publish pictorial warnings covering 40-per cent area of just one side of the packet.
The bench directed the state’s Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) to release the goods seized from cigarette majors ITC and Godfrey Philips, who had moved the court earlier this month.
According to their plea, on April 4 this year, the FDA had seized goods worth over Rs 300 crore on the ground that the seized cigarette packets did not have pictorial warnings in compliance with the Centre’s latest notification.
They had argued that the notification could only be implemented prospectively. They told the court that while there opposition to the new notification was pending hearings in courts across the country, the FDA had initiated raids to seize even those products that had been manufactured and packaged much before April 1 and thus, complied only with the 40 per cent rule.
They argued that the products seized by the FDA had been produced and packaged in March this year.
The tobacco industry has been up in arms against the imposition of the new rule claiming that the same barely leaves any space for the companies’ own branding, and violates their right to practice trade and thus, their constitutional rights.
On May 4 this year, the Supreme Court dismissed a plea challenging the new rule but directed the Karnataka high court to club and hear all pleas filed by cigarette companies challenging the new rule.