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October 10, 2019

SHC seeks reports from hospitals as concerns over mouth cancer grow


October 10, 2019

The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Wednesday directed the health director general, and district and sessions judges to call reports from the government and private hospitals of the province with regard to medical treatment to mouth cancer patients during the last five years.

Hearing petitions seeking a ban on the sale and manufacturing of gutka and mainpuri in the province, a division bench of the SHC headed by Justice Salahuddin Panhwar observed that as per doctors, the primary reason behind the prevalence of mouth cancer in Pakistan is the use of gutka, mainpuri and mawa.

The high court expressed concern over a report filed by the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre’s (JPMC) cancer ward incharge, which states that as many as 18,614 cancer patients received treatment at the JPMC during the last five years, of whom 9,453 cases were of mouth cancer.

The JPMC cancer ward incharge submitted that betel nuts were the reason of cancer; hence, the government may be directed to impose a ban on them and legislate accordingly. The SHC directed the health department to make a law keeping in view the referred opinion of the cancer registry regarding the betel nuts.

The high court was informed that FIRs were lodged against the illegal use of gutka, mainpuri, mawa and betel nuts. A provincial law officer submitted that raw material used for the preparation of gutka, mainpuri and mawa along with imported gutka, mainpuri and other such type of tobacco chewing products are coming from other countries by smuggling and the coast guards and other law enforcement agencies (LEAs) are privy to this and not taking any action. The SHC was requested to direct the LEAs posted at borders to stop the smuggling of such articles.

A federal law officer submitted that the Pakistan Rangers may be directed to start a crackdown against manufacturers and smugglers in the aid of police. The SHC directed the Rangers director general to ensure complete assistance to police in cracking down such menace and the paramilitary force may independently take actions against smugglers and manufacturers, however, such actions shall be confined to the arrest of culprits and seizure of property etc while the law, later, shall take its own course as provided by the procedure.

The SHC also directed the coast guards to ensure that strict action is taken against the smugglers of gutka.

Applicant Imran Shehzad, who had filed an application for becoming an intervenor in the petition, submitted that the Sindh Food Authority director general may be directed to ensure raids at different places with regard to the illegal sale and purchase of the aforesaid articles. He alleged that police officials were also involved in promoting such menace and Rs10 million per day was spent as a bribe to the Mochko police which takes care of the Balochistan border in Karachi.

He submitted that around 17,000 tons of gutka and similar articles were seized from a place but only 6,000 kg were shown. He informed the SHC that gutka, mainpuri and mawa consumers are mainly those belonging to the poor class and around 70 per cent of such class living in Karachi, Tharparkar, Badin, Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas and Sujawal districts are addicted to these hazardous items.

The provincial law officer submitted that the law concerning the manufacture, sale and purchase of gutka and mainpuri provides maximum six years’ sentence for the manufacturers and one year’s sentence for the user. He submitted that such punishment was not sufficient to cause deterrence. The law secretary submitted that a bill with regard to the legislation on gutka, mainpuri and other hazardous articles based on tobacco, betel nuts and other poisonous material has been referred to the standing committee on law and parliamentary affairs with the terms of reference to examine the bill and report back to the provincial assembly within one week. The SHC observed that manufacturers of such items turned responsible persons into irresponsible for their financial benefits.

The high court observed that such ill-gotten money at the cost of young blood of the nation requires to be used for the cleaning of such blood. The bench observed that it is expected that while making legislation, such aspect shall be considered while determining the quantum of punishment.

Regarding the allegation of police involvement in facilitating gutka and mainpuri, and releasing the seizure of 17,000 tons of gutka, the SHC observed that since it was a direct allegation of dealing with such a huge quantity of gutka in an illegal manner, it would be appropriate that the Sindh IGP conduct an inquiry into it and submit a report.

The SHC observed that there is no mechanism of internal policing to keep a check on criminal activities of police officers. It further observed that the continuing businesses of gutka, mainpuri and such items were a failure of the LEAs.

The high court directed the IGP and additional IGs to call explanations from the SHOs if gutka, mainpuri and similar items were being prepared and sold in their respective jurisdictions. It also directed the law secretary, health secretary and food authority director general to submit compliance reports by November 18.