The National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests on Thursday to examine the effect of hookah in respect of indoor air pollution and prescribe appropriate standards on the issue.
A bench headed by Justice Raghuvendra S Rathore, however, said that it lacked jurisdiction to restrain the use of hookah in restaurants and bars in the city.
"The tribunal would like to recommend/suggest the Ministry of Environment and Forests to look into and examine the effect of hookah in respect of indoor air pollution. In case the view is affirmative, then they should come out and prescribe appropriate standards for it so that the issue can be dealt with in case of violation of standards," the bench said.
Referring to a Delhi High Court order, the tribunal said hookah is covered under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Acts (COTPA) which does not come under the jurisdiction of the tribunal.
The tribunal's direction came while disposing a plea filed by Manjinder Singh Sirsa, the BJP MLA from Rajouri Garden assembly constituency in Delhi, seeking immediate ban on hookah bars in the national capital.
During the hearing, the lawyer, appearing for the MLA, said hookah is a hazardous substance and referred to various provisions of the Public Health Act 1981 and studies to show its harmful effects.
The argument was opposed by the lawyers for the hookah bar owners, who said that the type of hookah used in restaurants and bars was not hazardous because they are special type of substances used only for flavours and does not contain tobacco.
The tribunal, however, said it was only empowered to hear civil cases relating to environmental issues and questions that are linked to the implementation of laws listed in Schedule I of the NGT Act.
It also noted submission of the Delhi Pollution Control Committee that there was no prescribed standard for indoor air pollution and breach of environment would come into play if any norm is violated.
Sirsa had contended that the ambient air quality standards in public places such as restaurants and bars were dangerously higher than the prescribed norms.
Referring to the Prohibition of Smoking in Public Places Rules 2008, the plea had said these rules are being openly flouted by various restaurants and hookah bars in Delhi wherein hookah, as a tobacco product, is being permitted to be smoked in open spaces without designating any part of its premises as a smoking area.
"Direct MoEF to issue directions under Section 5 of the Environment Protection Act 1986 against such person or entities who have been polluting indoor ambient air in restaurants and bars and such other public places in Delhi by selling hookah or permitting hookah smoking in its premises," the plea had said.
Sirsa had earlier alleged that hookah bars were "ruining" the youth of Delhi by turning them into "drug addicts".
"Despite launch of a campaign in the country to contain use of tobacco and ban on hookah bars, most hookah bars in Delhi are running on restaurant licences illegally and selling products that are harmful for the youth," he had earlier said.