Prohibition on herbal hookahs due to COVID: HC for removal of police vehicles outside restaurants



NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court Thursday directed the Delhi Police not to harass restaurants and bars, which have filed pleas seeking permission to sell and serve herbal flavoured hookahs, and not to park their vehicles outside their premises.

The court said the police can do random checks in restaurants and bars to see if hookahs are being served but can’t keep police personnel posted there as it will affect customers.

Justice Rekha Palli took on record the statement by the counsel for Delhi Police that they will not park vehicles outside the premises, subject to random checks by police and that the restaurants and bars will not serve hookahs till an order is passed by the court on their petitions.

The court was informed that the concerned department of the Delhi government has re-considered the August 3, 2020 order of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA), prohibiting the use of herbal hookah in public places to contain the spread of COVID-19, and the authorities have reiterated that the restriction would continue.

The fresh order was passed by the authorities on October 14, reiterating the stand that prohibition on the use of hookah will continue to be enforced till further orders.

The high court directed the Delhi government to reconsider the matter within five days and in case, they still feel prohibition is necessary, an affidavit be filed in this regard. It listed the matter for further hearing on October 29.

The court had earlier issued notice and sought a response from the Delhi government on separate pleas by several restaurants and bars seeking to direct the state and police not to interfere with the sale of herbal flavoured hookahs or take coercive steps against them.

The court had earlier also directed the authorities to reconsider the matter in view of changed circumstances.

During the hearing, the petitioner’s counsel said the October 14 order has been passed by the authorities on the presumption that hookah is being served in closed places and on sharing basis.

The counsel said they were ready to make a statement that they will serve it only in open space and disposable pipes will be used in hookah and it will not be on sharing basis.

The counsel further said though restaurants are providing other services also, in order to harass them, police have parked their vehicles outside the premises due to which very few customers are entering there.

The restaurants said they do not want to be harassed as it is having a deterrent effect on their business and they are not being able to earn a livelihood.

On September 17, the high court had asked the Delhi government why DDMA’s order prohibiting the use of herbal hookah in public places to contain the spread of COVID-19 be not re-considered when breath analyser test was being allowed now.

Separate petitions were filed by Breath Fine Lounge and Bar, TOS, R High Speedbar and Lounge, Verandah Moonshine, and Sixth Empirica Lounge in West Punjabi Bagh, challenging the order of the Joint Commissioner of Police (Licensing Unit) prohibiting and excluding the sale or service of herbal flavoured hookahs in restaurant/bar being run by them.

The pleas said the petitioners are serving herbal hookahs for which no licence is required as they are totally without tobacco but the police are still conducting raids, seizing equipment, and issuing challans.

The petitioners’ counsel had earlier said as long as the restaurants undertake not to use nicotine in hookah, they cannot be prohibited from carrying out their businesses.

The pleas have sought to declare that definition of “smoking” under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), does not cover herbal flavoured hookahs and to direct the authorities not to take any extreme step of suspension or cancellation of registration certificate of the petitioners.

The Delhi government has been opposing the pleas saying for a single mistake, the entire Delhi would have to pay a heavy price, and allowing hookah consumption in public places may spread COVID-19 since people would be sharing it.

The Delhi government has said the use of hookah, be it with or without tobacco, in all public places including hotels, restaurants, eatery houses, bars, pubs, and discotheques, in the national capital is strictly prohibited as the use or sharing of hookah may further increase the spread of COVID-19.

Delhi government counsel had referred to the August 3, 2020 order passed by the Health Department which observed that in public places, use and sharing of hookah with and without tobacco (herbal hookah) may further increase the spread of coronavirus.

“Now, therefore, in the exercise of powers conferred by the Delhi Epidemic Diseases, COVID-19, Regulations, 2020 under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, the use of hookah (with or without tobacco, that is, herbal hookah, water pipes, and other hookahs like devices) in all public places including hotels, restaurants, eatery houses, bars, pubs, discotheques, etc, of the NCT of Delhi is strictly prohibited with immediate effect, for the purpose of prevention and control of the outbreak of epidemic disease namely COVID-19 in NCT of Delhi,” the Delhi government order said.

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