Lack of clarity on serving hookah, district administration says no license being issued
After an Allahabad high court order in February of this year instructed authorities in Uttar Pradesh to handle applications for granting or renewing licences for hookah bars, restaurateurs in Gautam Budh Nagar approached the FSA for clarification on whether hookah licences were being issued in the district, officials said
The Gautam Budh Nagar district administration issued a clarification on Friday, stating that the Food Safety and Drug Administration (FSA) department is not granting licences for hookah bars in the district.
However, on May 17 and 18, at least three restaurants in Noida modified their names to ‘Hookah Bar’ in their restaurant licences through the FSA in order to serve hookahs at their establishments, officials said.
After an Allahabad high court order in February of this year instructed authorities in Uttar Pradesh to handle applications for granting or renewing licences for hookah bars, restaurateurs in Gautam Budh Nagar approached the FSA for clarification on whether hookah licences were being issued in the district, officials said.
“We wanted to understand if the food department was issuing hookah licences. We were informed that the state government has not issued any advisory regarding this matter, and there are currently no specified conditions or processes for obtaining such licences. Therefore, the FSA instructed us to change the names of our restaurants to ‘Hookah Bar’ after modifying our licences. It was implied that after this name change, we would be allowed to serve hookah. Following due process, we changed the names accordingly,” said Ajeet Sharma, owner of F Bar and Lounge in Sector 38, one of the applicants.
In an order dated February 21, 2023, the court stated, “Considering that the operation of hookah bars is regulated under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, it is open for the individual applicants to apply to the appropriate authority for granting or renewing licences to operate their respective hookah bars.”
Archana Dheeran, the designated officer of the FSA, confirmed that applications for name changes were approved by the department. She said, “There seems to have been a misunderstanding. Only the names were changed with modifications to the restaurant licences, but no ‘hookah licenses’ were issued. Currently, our department does not have a category for hookah licences.”
District Magistrate Manish Verma reviewed the situation on Friday after several restaurants were found promoting on social media that they would now serve hookah in Noida.
“The process of obtaining licences/registrations for hookah bars will be implemented only after receiving proper guidelines from the Uttar Pradesh government. We will examine the order of the Honourable High Court and communicate with the government to establish a set of operating procedures. Only then can any hookah bars be permitted to serve the product,” said Verma.
On the other hand, this situation has left restaurateurs in a quandary. Sharma said , “We were planning to start serving hookah on Monday, but following notification from the department, we have postponed our plans.”
Saurabh Agrawal, owner of ‘Rabarru Clubstraunt’ in Sector 38 and Sector 142 in Noida, said, “There is a lack of clarity, and it seems there is some confusion within the department. It seemed that we had been granted the licences. The department and mall management has advised us to wait for further clarity.”
Varun Khera, head of the National Restaurant Association of India (Noida chapter), said, “Restaurateurs will always comply with the law and regulations and will act according to the administration’s instructions. It seemed that the restaurants had received approval from both the Allahabad High Court and the food safety department to serve hookah after following due procedure. However, there still appears to be a lack of clarity on this matter.”
He added that hookahs have been banned in Gautam Budh Nagar for the past six years. “Restaurants in Gautam Budh Nagar have been prohibited from serving hookah for the last six years, and we will continue to adhere to the rules in the future. However, if there are provisions provided by the government to serve, we would like to follow them and take the opportunity,” he said.