Herbal hookah bars get relief from Bombay HC, will not face action
The Bombay high court (HC) on Monday paved the way for herbal hookah bars in the city after it clarified that no action can be taken against an establishment for serving tobacco-free hookah.
A division bench of justices Ranjit More and Bharati Dangre was hearing a petition filed by architect-turned-restaurateur Ali Reza Abdi. He sought a declaration that the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), 2003, under which hookah is banned, is not applicable to tobacco-free herbal hookah, and authorities cannot take coercive action against him if he starts serving herbal hookah at his chain of rooftop restaurants — Sheesha Skylounge.
In his petition, Abdi stated that after the fire at two restaurants at Kamala Mills on December 28, 2017, which killed 14 people, the state amended the COTPA in 2018, imposing a blanket ban on opening or running hookah bars in any place. The amendment made serving hookah a cognisable offence, attracting imprisonment up to three years.
Abdi complained that following the amendment, three of his restaurants in Mumbai, in which more than 400 people are employed, have been shut for the past year.
However, public prosecutor Deepak Thakare opposed the petition, claiming that if herbal hookah is allowed, authorities will find it difficult to regulate hookah bars and ensure only tobacco-free herbal hookah is served. “For that, police will have to check every packet available at the hookah parlour and get it tested,” said Thakare.
Advocate Sujay Kantawalla, representing Abdi, responded that the hotelier was willing to submit an undertaking that he will serve tobacco-free herbal hookah, Soex, only. Kantawalla said the product was tested by a forensic laboratory, which concluded that the brand does not contain any tobacco, nicotine or tar, and has only flavours and additives.
Special counsel for the state, senior advocate SU Kamdar, also opposed the petition, calling it “premature”. He said action could not be taken against Abdi’s establishment until it was raided, samples were collected, and analysed. Kamdar further said the petitioner was free to carry on business, except what is prohibited by the 2018 amendment to COTPA.
The bench issued the clarification on the basis of Kamdar’s contentions and said authorities can take action against Abdi’s establishment if they find that hookah containing tobacco is being served.