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Bombay High Court seeks government reply over ban on Hookah

The Bombay High Court on Monday directed the state government to file its reply to a petition challenging the blanket ban on starting and operating a hookah parlour in the state. A division bench of Chief Justice Naresh Patil and Justice Makarand Karnik issued notices to the government and the concerned departments. The bench has also asked the authorities to file a say on or before December 17.

The bench was seized with a bunch of petitions challenging the blanket ban on running or even opening a hookah parlour, anywhere in the state. The ban was brought into effect by bringing statutory amendments in the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition) Act (COPTA), 2003.

The government introduced this blanket ban against the backdrop of the major fire broke out in the eateries at Kamala Mills last December. The fire, which reportedly started from the hookah embers had killed 14. According to the new rule, approved by the President in September this year, no person is allowed to own or operate a hookah parlour even on behalf of someone else, in any part of Maharashtra.

Apart from other reasons, the government has also claimed the ban will help bring down instances of students and minors consuming tobacco, since this is the age group of customers who visit such parlours. The petitioners—mostly the owners of hookah parlours, argued, the government has deprived them of their fundamental right to carry out business, as envisaged in the Constitution. They further argued even as the state and central laws do not prohibit inherent consumption of tobacco, the new law has banned consumption of tobacco but only through a “particular medium.”

“The nicotine levels in hookah are far less as compared to cigarettes and bidis, even then hookah has been banned,” the owners argued. The petition alleged the reasoning of the government for bringing in the law is not correct. “The incident at Kamala Mills took place not because of hookah consumption, but because the restaurants’ owners had not complied with mandatory BMC and state laws,” it read.

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