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Last orders: curb the neo Licence Raj

india Updated: Nov 01, 2013 17:05 IST
Serena Menon
Serena Menon
Hindustan Times
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It’s not every day that our government takes decisions to better Mumbai’s nightlife. October, somehow, has been full of miracles; and crusaders for Mumbai’s nightlife suddenly seem to have everyone’s attention — from our Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan to that of youth politico Aaditya Thackeray, and, as a result, that of the BMC and Excise Department officials. One suspects that the upcoming elections are responsible for this (since that’s the time for big promises); but this is as good as it gets.

The Excise Department, which in 2009 had issued a notification saying no one can buy more than two bottles of alcohol per week is now hoping to have the drinking permit abolished altogether. Thackeray is also making sure his proposal to keep eateries open 24x7 is seen by Chavan.

Then, earlier this week, support poured in from chief secretary JK Banthia at the Mantralaya. He revealed plans to reduce the number of licences needed to set up a restaurant from 38 to 19. Some of the licences will be abolished; others will be clubbed. The idea, they say, is to make the process simpler, and encourage more people to enter the business. While the ‘simpler’ part seems obvious, for the aspiring first-time restaurateur, things aren’t going to get much easier.

Acquiring licences, it seems, continues to be a big obstacle. The first hurdle is the lack of clarity. If you go around asking for the number of licences actually needed to open an eatery, chances are that you’ll be given several answers — 52, 38, 39.

A veteran restaurateur tells me that even he ends up procuring the list from agents at times. What agents, you wonder? The same ones who get the paperwork done for you; by hook or by crook. They make a living — and a good one — being the middlemen in a faulty system.

A pub owner, on the condition of anonymity, says that if you’re fortunate, you’ll get away with spending only `10 to `12 lakh for all your licences. Others have been known to spend amounts as high as `30 lakh. A young entrepreneur who has been waiting for his licences for three months now says that doing things the ‘right way’ just doesn’t work. Another aspirant abandoned his plan halfway because the paperwork was taking too long and his rent and expenses were escalating.

Since now seems like a good time to have issues addressed, here’s one that desperately needs attention — reform the system to acquire licences and put up one exhaustive list online so that people don’t have to run from pillar to post, or alternatively, grease palms. Reducing the number of licences will definitely help.

But streamlining the system of obtaining those licences is crucial too. Change is in sight. Let’s just hope it’ll be more than a half-measure.