5 December 2022

Blast from the Past

Supreme Court


Godawat Pan Masala Products I.P. Ltd. and Anr. v. Union of India (UOI) and Ors.


Winding a fine line between ‘public interest’ and interest

Tobacco advertising occupies a grey area in the debate on moral policing. On the one hand is consumer will and freedom to consume a legal substance, on the other the many possible harms of ingesting tobacco in any form. Saving the public from themselves or just another agenda guised as moral?

The Central Government is vested with authority to declare food or other articles as injurious to health and prohibit distribution of the same, to varying extents, in the interest of public health. Section 7 of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 in fact allows its tremendous latitude in controlling articles for human consumption in the interest of public health.

Various State governments interpreted the same authority as also extending to them and notifications banning the manufacture, sale and distribution of pan masala and gutka in the State, either indefinitely or for prolonged periods.

The Supreme Court was unequivocal in its ruling: banning and prohibiting food and associated articles was in the exclusive domain of Parliament. State bans could be “only of transitory nature”, lasting short periods of time. State food and health authorities did not have the power to prohibit manufacture, sale, etc. State law that overrode national Prevention of Food Adulteration Act was ultra vires, the Supreme Court held. The judgment never discussed divergent policy-making of States, nor did it enter into the appropriateness or reasonableness of the policy. Perhaps that was the Court’s silent obiter: allowing a reasonable exercise of power would have opened the door to yet more arbitrariness.


Tulsipur Sugar Co. MANU/SC/0336/1980
Union of India and Anr. v. Cynamide India Ltd. and Anr. MANU/SC/0076/1987
Section 7 Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954

Tags : Pan masala public interest ban state

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