Three months after flying embers from a hookah served at a pub in Mumbai’s Kamala Mills Compound caused a blaze, which claimed 14 lives, the Maharashtra government on Tuesday moved to ban hookah parlours in the state.
The move is on the lines of neighbouring Gujarat. On the penultimate day of the Budget Session of the state legislature, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Girish Bapat tabled a Bill — Amendment to the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply, and Distribution) Act — in this regard. According to the provisions of the Bill, no person will be permitted to “open or run any hookah bar in any place including an eating house.” The Bill has defined hookah bars as “establishments where people gather to smoke tobacco from a community hookah or a narghile provided individually.”
Senior officials clarified that the Bill does not ban smoking hookah at home or in designated areas, where food or beverage would not be permitted, just like in cigarette smoking zones.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, in a written statement of objectives for the Bill, has stated, “It has been observed that hookah bars have mushroomed on a large scale in Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, and other cities. These bars are being run in public places as well as restaurants. Minor children and college students are attracted to these hookah bars. At present, there is no law in existence in respect of hookah bars, therefore no legal action can be taken against the hookah bars.”
In January this year, a probe panel — headed by Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation Commissioner Ajoy Mehta — had concluded the Kamala Mills fire tragedy, which took place on December 29, was caused due to embers used for a hookah in a pub.
According to officials, about 500-odd hookah parlours had mushroomed in Mumbai and Thane in the absence of any law to regulate them. The new Bill borrows from provisions applied in neighbouring Gujarat, where a person found running hookah bars illegally or in contravention of norm can be imprisoned for up to three years, and face a minimum penalty of Rs 50,000.
Police officers of the rank of assistant police inspector and above have been granted the power to seize materials used for running hookah bars illegally. With Wednesday being the last day of the ongoing session, the treasury bench is pushing for a smooth passage of the Bill.