New Delhi, Sep 17 (PTI) The Delhi High Court Friday asked the AAP government why its order prohibiting use of herbal hookah in public places to contain spread of COVID-19 be not re-considered when breath analyser test is being allowed now.

The high court issued notice and sought response of the Delhi government on five separate pleas by restaurants and bars seeking to direct the state and police not to interfere with the sale of herbal flavoured hookahs or take coercive steps against them.

“Issue notice. Delhi government counsel seeks time to get instructions as to why August 3, 2020 order is not reconsidered when breath analyser test is being allowed now. It is expected that DDMA will consider this aspect urgently,” Justice Rekha Palli said while listing the matter for further hearing on September 30.

The court said why should this order relating to ban on hookah be not reconsidered when Delhi Police has also started breath analyser test.

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, challenging the order of Joint Commissioner of Police (Licensing Unit) prohibiting and excluding the sale or service of herbal flavoured hookahs in restaurant/ bar being run by them.

The pleas said the petitioners are serving herbal hookahs for which no licence is required as they are totally without tobacco but the police is still conducting raids, seizing equipments and issuing challans.

The petitioners’ counsel submitted that in their restaurants they are providing single hookah and not the shared one and only about 5 to 10 per cent of guests visiting there are desirous of using hookah.

The counsel said they have much more quantity of hookah than the requirement and since the authorities have re-commenced breath analyser test, there is no reason why this activity be not allowed.

The counsel named another lounge and bar and claimed that hookah service is going on there and the petitioners cannot be discriminated with.

The pleas were opposed by Delhi government standing counsel Santosh Kumar Tripathi who said 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.

He further said, “herbal or non-herbal, we are not allowing any type of hookah. We are wearing mask even when we are driving car alone. How can we allow hookah to be shared from one person to another. Hookah is not that important, our lives are more important.” When the petitioners’ counsel said she was giving an undertaking that each person will be using single hookah in the restaurant, the Delhi government counsel said not even single hookah can be allowed.

The Delhi government has said 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 use or sharing of hookah may further increase spread of COVID-19.

The petitioners’ counsel had earlier said as long as the restaurants undertake not to use nicotine in hookah, they cannot be prohibited from carrying out their businesses.

The pleas have sought to declare that definition of "smoking" under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), does not cover herbal flavoured hookahs and to direct the authorities not to take any extreme step of suspension or cancellation of registration certificate of the petitioners.

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 spread of coronavirus.

“Now, therefore, in 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 hookah 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 the purpose of prevention and control of the outbreak of epidemic disease namely COVID-19 in NCT of Delhi,” the Delhi government order said.