Monday, February 7, 2011

Pune roads are full of gutka sachets

I am in the midst of an eight day Kaya Kalpa Kriya programme organised by the SSY (Swayam Siddha Yoga), founded by Swami Shri Rishi Prabhakar. One of the sessions included sweeping a public road and collecting plastic litter. Last Sunday morning, we got into action on Salisbury Park Road between Golden Bakery and Dias Plot slum. While the roadsides were predictably studded with all kinds of plastic litter, the majority of it comprised plastic gutka sachets. In fact, every second plastic material that I picked up was a gutka sachet. That's when I realised the enormity of the cancerous spread of this addiction (literally and otherwise)! 

The gutka pan masala industry accounts to a whopping Rs.100 billion in India so you can imagine the power of this lobby. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), India records about 800,000 tobacco deaths every year or 2,200 deaths a day. Pune based doctor and activist Dr Kalyan Gangwal along with other like-minded activists have been fighting tooth and nail since several years, against availability of gutka pan masala in such small plastic packets that lures young children and th youth to it. A few years back, the Supreme Court had given a formidable judgement directing gutka manufacturers to ban production of such convenient packets and instead sell them only in 200gms tins. This would curtail easy accessibility that is causing harm to lakhs of youngsters. The gutka lobby being strong and influential, the directive was ignored.

Recently, the Supreme Court of India has again come hard on this pan masala industry. A couple of weeks back,  it imposed a ban on the use of plastic in the packaging of tobacco products and set March 2011 as the deadline for implementation. The gutka manufacturers pleaded that this would lead to closure of industries. The court then ordered that they should shift to environmentally sachets or then shut down. 

March is coming close and one would be pleasantly surprised if the Supreme Court ruling is adhered to by this industry. It is high time though this industry becomes socially and environmentally conscious considering that more than fve million children in India suffer from oral cancers, mostly because of consuming gutka. 

In the meanwhile, actors like Sanjay Dutt should take moral and social lessons from Sachin Tendulkar (who did not accept to be the brand ambassoder for a liquour company) and stop advertising to promote gutka-eating.  


  1. Nilakshi Jatar and Pari Ali said:

    Any statistics regarding how many people who eat gutkha die, as compared to those who do not eat gutkha? One could take a sample from a particular territory and keep an age range in mind.
    Nilakshi Jatar

    Dear Vinita,
    How are you? I am glad you have covered this topic. Gutka is disgusting. Time something was done about it. The problem with us Indians is that we are so full of apathy and a sab chalta hai attitude. We tend to think "If its not affecting me why should I bother. Even if it is affecting me I'll learn to live with it". We are too easy going.

    Keep doing the good work. I was surprised when I got the mail from you about IP. I hope to see it back up soon.
    Pari Ali

  2. Very good article keep up the good work

  3. The SC has apparently only directed that while gutka can continue to be sold in conven\ient sachets, these sachets should be of environmentally friendly material and not plastic. Therefore SC ruling has nothing to do with direct health risk of gutka chewing but rather the indirect health risk of using plastic packaging material.

  4. Dear Vinita ,
    Govt is bringing ban on plastic sachets for gutkha now , I read . Its really a must and should be strictly followed .
    Jayashree Firodia

    Dear Vinita,
    Great good work you are doing. Carry on.
    Best of luck
    Hope you all come to our side too and other places around Pune. Those atrocious red stains of gutka wherever you turn are nauseating. PMC is resting on its dough-sacks and leaving all the dirty work of cleaning up the city to NGO's!
    Kusum Gokarn

  5. Dear Gautam

    You are absolutely right - the grave health concern has not been addressed at all, showing the myopic and pro-lobbyist attitude of the powers-that-be

  6. Hi Vinita,
    Glad you highlighted this issue. Actually 2 issues - gutka addiction and plastic litter. I hope there is some legal ruling, which will strengthen the hands of socially conscious people who are trying to reduce plastic waste.

  7. hi vinita: yes, the lobby is strong and it would be interesting to see who in the Govt they would grease, now that the SC has given its verdict! Moreover, the fallout of gutkha eating, besides oral-peptic cancer, is also creating a generation that has impotency issues (due to chemiclas in the gutkha)and the obnoxious and harmful habit of spitting in public places. Foundation for Professional Governance (FPG) has begun addressing the spitting part thru its campaign Spit Free India. See for more. A beautiful film has been made where people working with this issue have lent their voice and face. FPG looking for sponsors to take this forward to completion and then propagating to PMC schools, Hospitals, Govt buildings etc...

  8. Raghunath Iyer, Sanjay Deshpande and Pari Ali wrote:

    We have many contradictions. We have many jobless people. But many jobs that are also waiting for people. For CYG many garbage litter bins were planted along all important roads. None of them are around any more in any usable condition. Even during CYG none of them were maintained or cleaned. We have lots of people wasting away time "looking for a dream job" where they can dream their time away and get paid for doing nothing. I am being cynical - some may say.
    - Raghunath Iyer

    Very imp subject.
    In Singapore they have kept 10 lit garbage beens at every 50' along all main roads where people can put their stubs of cigaretes,though guthka isnt there. Most imp is these garbage beens are replaced by each 30 minutes ,so at least the footpaths & roads remains free of stubs. We can think of same here!

    Sanjay Deshpande

    I am glad you have covered this topic. Gutka is disgusting. Time something was done about it. The problem with us Indians is that we are so full of apathy and a sab chalta hai attitude. We tend to think "If its not affecting me why should I bother. Even if it is affecting me I'll learn to live with it". We are too easy going.

    Pari Ali

  9. Jayant Joshi wrote:

    Maybe Pune can start a program similar to Adopt-a-Highway program run by California Dept of Transportation.

    - Jayant

    The Adopt-A-Highway Program

    The Caltrans Adopt-A-Highway Program provides an avenue for individuals, organizations, or businesses to help maintain sections of roadside within California's State Highway System. Groups have the option to participate as volunteers or to hire a maintenance service provider to perform the work on their behalf.
    The Adopt-A-Highway program, which began in 1989, has been one of the truly successful government-public partnerships of our time. More than 120,000 Californians have cleaned and enhanced over 15,000 shoulder-miles of roadside.
    Participation can include one or more of the following activities:
    • Removing litter (work frequency varies with location).
    • Planting and establishing trees or wildflowers.
    • Removing graffiti.
    • Controlling vegetation.
    Adoptions usually span a two-mile stretch of roadside and permits are issued for five-year periods. Groups in good standing may renew their permits indefinitely.
    The moratorium on issuing new Adopt-A-Highway Permits has been lifted. Due to the large backlog of Program Applications received during the past 18 months, new Adopt-A-Highway Permits will be processed in the following order:
    1. Expired permits
    2. Permit riders and active permits that are about to expire
    3. Permits placed on “hold” because of the freeze
    4. Urban litter removal sites with waiting list
    5. Urban litter removal sites with applications received after the suspension is lifted
    6. All other litter removal sites with waiting list
    7. All other litter removal sites with applications received after the suspension is lifted
    8. All non-litter removal sites
    The Adopt-A-Highway Program is not a forum for advertising or public discourse. Please contact your local public works agency if you wish to adopt a county road or a city street that is not maintained by Caltrans.
    Contact Adopt-A-Highway