CHENNAI: Though there were close to 10 hookah lounges operating in the city when the axe fell in 2011, all of them save for one have since disappeared.
N Vishal Jain, who fashioned Robustaa and Hyglow Cafe in Kilpauk as an alternative hookah lounge, wasn’t ready to let go of it. “Seven months after we spent so much money and built the place in accordance with all regulations, we were raided and shut in 2011.
We re-grouped and made it a plain cafe and opened soon after. But I did not want to let it go,” said Vishal, basking in the glory of the Supreme Court (SC) ruling that hookah bars could operate again.
About a year ago, he convinced his lawyer to take civil action and join an ongoing battle in the SC started by Narinder S Chadha, a hookah chain owner in Mumbai. “We knew it would take time, but we had law and confidence on our side.
After having catered to outdoor parties and events, a thriving hookah market in the city, he was exasperated when the Corporation threw a spanner into those works as well, this June.
“This was taken to the Madras High Court, where I told them that the matter was pending in the SC and now, we have won the case,” he said.
In the ruling, the SC judge has stated that the Madras HC notice is obviously ultra vires the Cigarettes Act and the Rules made thereunder, as it prevents the owner of the hotel/restaurant from providing tobacco to persons who are not minors and asking such persons affirmatively to stop people from sucking and swallowing tobacco.
Further, sale of tobacco can only be prohibited within a radius of 100 yards of an educational establishment and not 300 feet as is stated in the notice.
The underground hookah scene aside, Vishal’s cafe is one of the few places that have existed long enough to think about re-entering the market, “A lot of orders for Sheesha come in during the weekend. The only restriction posed by the law was that we should not sell it in proximity to an educational institution - neither the parties nor our cafe violated that rule,” he explained.