After a devastating fire in Kamala Mills compound killed 14 and injured several others, hookah parlours may now get a new set of rules and regulations. The state government has been considering laying down stricter rules for establishments serving hookah to its customers. The fire is said to have been caused by one of the burning coals used in a hookah. The new set of rules will include licensing of such establishments and an age bar on patrons that they can serve.“Though the Supreme Court had struck down a ban on hookah parlours, we are looking at regulating them… the question is what kind of regulation is feasible. We are planning to amend the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003. This will regulate the sale and advertisements of tobacco products (including hookah) for the state with the consent of the Centre,” said a senior home department official, adding that they had recently held discussions in this regard.The BMC had imposed a ban on hookah parlours in 2011 in restaurants where smoking otherwise was permitted. This was challenged in the SC which struck it down in 2014.“We can, however, regulate these hookah parlours by laying down a set of rules on the minimum age of their patrons (after concerns that even those who were under-age had access to hookahs), the amount of nicotine used and the number of people to be accommodated in an establishment,” said another official from the department.A senior official said that as of now, these hookah parlours lacked separate licensing or regulatory mechanism. “There is a thin line as on today… Some sort of regulation for hookahs is necessary. You need permissions to start restaurants and even a shop act registration for a xerox centre but no special license for a hookah bar. There must be some system to give licenses and regulate them,” the official admitted, stating that these hookah bars, which were proliferating in Mumbai and also in areas like Pune, fell in a legal twilight zone.“These hookah bars invariably serve liquor,” he said, adding that minors also accessed these spaces leading to public health, and law-and-order concerns.Meanwhile, a senior state excise official said that 1 Above and Mojo Bistro were serving liquor outside the area for which they had been given a license. “They were serving alcohol outside the designated area for which they had a permit room license. The service area had been extended to the terrace where liquor was served. This is a violation,” the official claimed.A home department official said a private member bill seeking to ban hookah bars had also been moved in the state legislature during the recent winter session at Nagpur.State excise commissioner Dr Ashwini Joshi had cracked down on one-day liquor party permits in restaurants as these temporary club licenses, which are meant for functions, were used by rooftop restaurants and eateries to serve liquor across the year.
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