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Delhi High Court orders crackdown on illegal tobacco outlets

Tobacco products are still being sold outside schools and colleges in defiance of the law, a PIL alleged, prompting the court to order better policing, and directing the government to increase awareness about the dangers of smoking

The Delhi High Court has ordered the “strictest punishment” for those found violating the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act 2003 and selling tobacco products to children. The law prohibits vendors from selling tobacco products within 100 yards of schools, colleges and hospitals.

Any vendor caught selling such products near these places faces a penalty ranging from a fine of Rs 1,000 to three months imprisonment. The court also ordered the immediate sealing of all errant outlets.

The court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) by the World Lung Foundation (South Asia) that complained that the sale of tobacco products still continued near schools, colleges and hospitals.

A recent survey conducted by the World Lung Foundation in 726 educational institutions found tobacco outlets near 198 of them. The PIL states that the police and health authorities have turned a blind eye to this problem, despite Section 6 of COTPA specifically banning such sale and ordering the prosecution of violators.

“Certain areas near schools and colleges in Delhi University continue to be smoking hubs,” the petition says.

The bench interpreted this finding to mean that the police needed to step up their policing activities. Following an earlier court order, a taskforce was constituted by the Delhi police commissioner, and all DCPs have been entrusted with the task of enforcing the ban. The two-judge bench directed the Delhi police commissioner to analyse status reports from the taskforce and ensure prompt action by the DCP or SHO of the area concerned.

The court also directed the chief secretary of Delhi, in consultation with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, to give wider publicity in the print and electronic media about the consumption of tobacco and diseases related to it.   

It instructed Delhi University to appoint nodal officers for all 16 colleges within 20 days, as required by law.

In its affidavit before the court, the government stated that the number of people fined by the Directorate of Health Services (DHS) for smoking in public places shot up three times between 2007 and 2010, with more than 16,000 people being prosecuted last year. The number of vendors prosecuted for selling tobacco products in restricted areas also grew three times during this period.

Source: Hindustan Times, March 31, 2011
             The Indian Express, March 31, 2011