The ‘penal action’ is not deterring operators of hookah centres from permitting minors, writes MARRI RAMU

A few days ago, the Hyderabad police cracked the whip on hookah centres after one of its operators allegedly abducted and tortured a teenaged customer for recovery of dues.

Even the Home Minister reacted to the incident, directing the police to initiate serious action against the erring hookah centres. A couple of times, the city police top brass went on record stating that some youngsters stole money from their homes having got addicted to these hubs, which have become popular and fashionable hangouts for the youth .

No specific law

Paradoxically, the police are not armed with a specific law to crackdown on hookah centres — obsession of which has the potential to lure the youngsters to a wrong track — notwithstanding orders from the top. The tom-tommed penal action turned out to be registration of cases against the managements of these hubs under the City Police Act. The Sections 21 and 76 of the CP Act, invoked in these cases, prescribe punishment of three months’ imprisonment or imposition of Rs. 100 fine. “In considerable number of cases, fine was imposed. Rarely, the violators are handed down sentences of one or two days’ jail term,” advocates say.

That is more or less equal to the punishment awarded to persons in petty offence cases registered under the CP Act. “Naturally, most of the violators charged with allowing minors to hookah centres and not maintaining the mandatory records of customers walk free by paying the fine amounts,” the police observe. The police are also using relevant provisions of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act-2003 in hookah centre cases. Punishment is not severe even under this Act. It is an open secret that the ‘penal action’ is not deterring operators of these centres from permitting minors.

Only after the case of teenager’s abduction and torture came to light, the police began seizing articles found in hookah centres under Sections 41 and 102 of Criminal Procedure Codes. The seized articles like the hookah pipes, tobacco and other consumable material are sent to the forensic laboratory to ascertain if traces of narcotic substances are found in them.

Seizure of articles

“Seizure of articles from the centre automatically leads to its closure at least temporarily. Indirectly, we’re checking youths frequenting hookah centres,” some police officers noted. But, they point out that it required a specific law to control such parlour. Mere orders would be an eyewash, they remark.

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