Smoking ban: Supreme Court says no to interim stay (Lead)

September 29th, 2008 - 9:18 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 29 (IANS) The Supreme Court Monday endorsed, at least till the next hearing in November, a country-wide ban on smoking in public places from Oct 2, dismissing arguments that it would mean ushering in “inspector raj” in India. Refusing to put the ban, that has provisions of Rs.200 fine, on hold, a bench of Justice B.N. Agrawal and Justice G.S. Singhvi also initiated steps for transfer of a bunch of 34 petitions, pending in various high courts, against the ban.

The apex court’s order came on a plea by the government, seeking transfer from the various high courts the lawsuits challenging the ban.

The bench issued the order after hearing counsel for various tobacco producers, including ITC and the federations of hoteliers. The court dismissed their fears that the ban, empowering various government officials to impose fines against offenders, would usher in an “inspector raj”, a regime in which a citizen would remain under watch by government inspectors.

Refusing to interfere with the government’s plan to ban smoking from Oct 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the bench ruled: “We have given our anxious consideration to the entire matter. We are of the view that it’s not a fit case to put any interim stay on implementation on ban on smoking.”

“Therefore, the plea for stay on prohibition of smoking in public places is rejected,” the bench said.

The government is to ban smoking in all public places, where the common citizens have the right to access, including cinema halls, restaurants, amusement centres from Oct 2 as per an anti-smoking law of 2003.

The open spaces, like roads, parks etc, however, have not been defined as public places.

The rule for enforcing the ban on smoking in public places was framed and notified in May, leading to filing of several lawsuits in various high courts by tobacco manufacturers and hoteliers against the proposed ban.

Appearing for the hoteliers, senior counsel Harish Salve, a non-smoker, said the rules framed by the government to impose the ban in public places far exceeded the mandate granted to it by the anti-smoking law, enacted by the parliament.

He pointed out that there was no provision in the act for appointment of any person to impose the fine on smokers, yet the rules empower a whole lot of government officials to impose the fine.

“This would lead to an ‘inspector raj’ in the country with any excise inspector walking in to any office and imposing a fine for smoking,” Salve contended.

He also objected to the provisions that held responsible the manager or in charge of any public place like restaurant to be liable to be fined for smoking by others in the premises.

He also pointed out that the rules framed earlier for ban on smoking provided for smoking areas in places like restaurants, but the new rule says the restaurant would not provide any service in the smoking area.

He pleaded direction to the government to take no punitive or coercive steps like imposing the fine, but the bench did not accede to his requests.

The bench, however, discarded his argument and fixed Nov 18 for further hearing on the matter after issuing notices to the petitioners in various high courts, seeking their response as to why their lawsuits should not be transferred to the apex court.

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