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Hookah comes for a price in city parlours

Hookah parlour owners in city allege that the police agreed to look the other way for a price, but broke the agreement despite getting paid; claim they paid Rs 5,000 hafta daily

In the past seven months, the local police around commercial areas have allegedly made a fortune, but not from traffic violations, busted scams or by arresting thieves.



According to allegations by hookah parlour staff and owners, despite the HC stay order on hookah, the cops have make a whopping Rs 2.10 crore.

Almost Rs 5,000 is being paid as 'daily hafta' by cafes intending to serve hookah. Irked after being stopped from secretly serving hookah despite paying the cops, owners of some cafes decided to spill the beans.

"When the ban was implemented in April this year, we immediately stopped serving hookah. Our cafe was raided and BBMP officials took away our sheshas.
 
Five days later, after looking at the depleting number of customers visiting our cafe, the local cops sympathized with us and said they would turn the other way when questioned by the local corporators, if we paid them a small sum," said Shanabaz, an ex-employee of a popular hookah parlour in Basvangudi.

On further probing, this reporter learnt that the cops had initiated the deal and most cafes in town agreed to it.

"We agreed to the mutually beneficial deal and started serving hookah. But off late, they (cops) started collecting daily hafta of Rs 5,000 as soon as we opened in the morning. This was difficult for us and when we voiced our problems to them, they said they would deal with us later.
 
They would collect from us in the morning and sometime in the course of the day, they would barge into our establishments and force us to stop serving hookah," said J Mahesh (name changed), a cafe owner from Jayanagar.

Why the ban?
Following an appeal by the BBMP, the HC banned all cafes in the city from serving hookah in their premises. This order that came in April this year was violated by several joints, as many entered into a similar hushed up mutually beneficial relationship with the local cops in their respective areas.

The idea was the brainchild of the Yediyur ward corporator, NR Ramesh and was accepted by the BBMP after much discussion. "We wanted this ban because minors were being served hookah and were getting hooked to this dangerous trend," said Ramesh, when questioned about the ban.

Hand in glove
The latest word coming in from a few sources within the police department is that a few local cops refused to give a part of the hafta to local corporators and his men, which is why now hookah parlors are back to square one.

"The hookah parlors operating without permission after striking a deal with the local cops have yet again being stopped from serving. Some say that the corporators had to crackdown because they did not receive their share.
 
However, since court order is awaited, many top police officials do not want to openly take the corrupt cops to task, although it is clear that they have struck a deal for a baffling amount," said a source within the police department.

Reality check bares all
When MiD DAY tried to reach the hookah cafes who had been serving the banned item on the menu for months illegally, they denied the same.

"We have not been serving hookah at all," said the manager of Mocha, Lavelle Road. Meanwhile, the other places hid their sheshas when we entered their parlour asking to be served.

"This is reserved only for certain people, and it has already been taken," said the manager from Soul Cafe.
At Flavours, Jayanagar we were told to wait for an hour before the local police to move out of the area.

"We stopped serving hookah post the ban as it wasn't an important item of revenue generation for us anyway," said Wazir Ahmed, City Head, Java City.

While the real picture still is that many cafes operating from South and Central Bangalore are serving hookah right under the nose of the police officers, one of the former waiters reveals that a new deal has been struck that would last till the HC lifts the stay order on serving hookahs.

When this reporter attempted to elicit information from cops pointed out by some hookah parlour owners and staff, they feigned ignorance and walked away.

Fast facts
Each local cop got Rs 5,000 on a daily basis from each hookah cafe in town. 
There are about 25 cafes that served hookah and are now banned from doing so

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