Mumbai: Bombay High Court goes Herbal

Mumbai: In a significant ruling, the Bombay High Court has held that restaurants across Maharashtra cannot be barred from serving herbal hookah to their customers, unless it contains nicotine or tobacco. The ruling has come on a petition filed by Sheesha restaurateur seeking permission to use herbal hookah which is not barred under the modified Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA).

The Maharashtra government had recently amended the COTPA and banned use of hookah, of any flavour, in restaurants. This was an outcome of the tragic incident of Kamla Mills’ fire, which killed more than a dozen people. The ban was imposed after a judicial commission concluded that the fire started because of hookah coals.

The new amendments provided criminal action against restaurants still serving hookah in any form. The city-based Sheesha Skylounge objected to this modification, as it was barred from serving even herbal hookah. The restaurateur – Ali Reza Abdi, who has three outlets in the city -- argued that his fundamental right to carry out a business and equality before law are being infringed because of the ‘unconstitutional’ interpretation of the amendment in the COTPA law.

Abdi, accordingly petitioned a bench of Justices Ranjit More and Bharati Dangre seeking permission to serve herbal hookah in his outlets. He argued through his counsel Dr Sujay Kantawala that since his product -– Soex, a herbal hookah flavour -- does not contain nicotine and tobacco, it cannot be barred from being served. Advocate Kantawala further placed a forensic report prepared after analysing his client’s product. The report ruled out any presence of tobacco, nicotine and tar.

LESS INTOXICATING: As against the usual tobacco hookah, the herbal one is expected to be less intoxicating. “The usual tobacco hookah can cause much harm to the humans but the herbal one is relatively less harmful. It does not have nicotine and/ or tobacco and cannot harm to that extent, but would have mild intoxication,” said a hookah lounge owner from Bandra. Herbal hookah would contain sugar and glycerine and other elements as listed in the forensic report, the owner added.

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