The Delhi High Court Wednesday sought response of the Delhi Government on a plea by a lounge and bar owner seeking to restrain the authorities from interfering with its business of serving herbal hookah, as permitted by the court recently.
The petitioner, Delhi Lounge and Bar Private Limited, gave an undertaking before Justice Yashwant Varma that they will follow the norms and will ensure that herbal hookahs will not contain tobacco or nicotine.
The plea contended that the authorities were not allowing it to serve herbal hookah that was permitted by its November 16 order.
On November 16, the high court had passed an interim order on a batch of pleas, allowing for the time being the use of herbal hookah in restaurants and pubs in the national capital and said that COVID-19 restrictions cannot be permitted to continue at the cost of livelihood.
During the hearing, Delhi government standing counsel Santosh Kumar Tripathi and lawyer Arun Panwar submitted that the lounge management be asked to give an undertaking that they will not serve tobacco or nicotine in herbal hookahs.
The petitioner said it was filing an undertaking before the court, in terms of the November 16 order, that they will only serve flavoured hookahs with the use of disposable pipes while following COVID-19 protocols.
The court listed the matter for further hearing on February 9.
The November 16 order had come on a batch of pleas by several restaurants and bars against the prohibition on the sale or service of herbal flavoured hookahs.
The high court had said that prohibitions imposed on account of the pandemic “cannot go on forever” and noted that the authorities have already permitted cinema halls and swimming pools to function at full capacity.
The court had clarified that it was granting permission as interim relief and the same was subject to the petitioners giving an undertaking to it that they would strictly follow COVID-19 appropriate behaviour while serving herbal hookah.
It had asked the Delhi government to “take a call” if other restaurants and bars approach it for permission to serve herbal hookah in compliance with COVID-19 protocol.
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, saying that they were serving herbal hookahs for which no licence is required as they are totally without tobacco but the police were still conducting raids, seizing equipment, and issuing challans.
The petitioners challenged the order of the Joint Commissioner of Police (Licensing Unit) prohibiting the sale or service of herbal flavoured hookahs.
The Delhi government has been opposing the pleas saying that 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 prevention and control of the outbreak of epidemic disease namely COVID-19 in NCT of Delhi,” the Delhi government order said.