The Hyderabad police issued a strict warning to coffee shops in the city on Saturday, and said that they would take strict action against those who served hookah.
In a press release, city police commissioner M Mahendar Reddy even warned of action against policemen, saying, “The High Court in its order clearly said hookah cannot be served. The court also made local station house officer (SHO) accountable, to ensure that hookah is not served at public places. So, as per the court order, we will take action against the concerned SHO, if he fails to crack down on any establishment, which is supplying hookah."
The police also cleared the air that hookah was not banned, and people could consume it privately. However, serving it was banned, as it would come under the category of a 'public place'.
"According to the latest rules from the Centre, no tobacco products can be consumed in public places, and this rule applies to hookah too. Some people are trying to mislead the shop owners by manipulating what the order means, but I'm making it clear that it is illegal," Mahender Reddy told TV9.
"Even the latest High Court judgement reiterated that hookah can't be served. I request hookah parlours in Hyderabad to discontinue the practice immediately. They can still continue serving customers as coffee shops and restaurants, as they have been in business for long. However, we request you to stop serving hookah. Repeat offenders will be prosecuted," he added.
Reddy said that the move was being undertaken in the larger interest of public health.
However, this move greatly irked the Twin Cities Coffee Shops Owners Association, who held a media meet on Saturday, and alleged that the police was harassing them, despite following court guidelines.
Speaking at the event, Association member Mohit Krishnaiah claimed that hookah was not illegal if it was not served to minors, and done in a closed space.
"The police has misinterpreted the court's order and is imposing a blanket ban on coffee shop. The court has said that we can continue the business. Instead of harassing us this way, the Telangana government should regulate it," he said.
“In the 13-page High Court order, it is clearly said that hookah is legal and laid out some rules and regulations. The thing to mention that SHOs, will be acting against those serving hookah, is pressure tactics. Despite we stopping providing hookah and restricted only to restaurant, my lounge was shut,'' The Pavilion Lounge owner Omair Siddiqui was quoted as saying.
"The Home Minister told the Assembly that coffee shops should have a trade licence and can serve hookah also. But we do not understand why cops are interfering in their business," Advocate Raju, who filed a writ on behalf of the association, said.