New Haryana excise policy curbs multi-floor operation for Ahatas - Hindustan Times
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New Haryana excise policy curbs multi-floor operation for Ahatas

May 19, 2024 05:26 AM IST

The policy, which was passed by the Haryana Cabinet on May 15, states that an ahata can run only on one level and not on multiple floors

Gurugram: The city’s popular drinking places located next to liquor shops – Ahatas-- cannot operate from multiple floors any more under the state government’s new excise policy that will come into force from June 12, excise department officials said on Friday.

An ahata on National Highway-48 in Gurugram on Friday. For years, these ahatas operated across several floors, providing ample space for patrons to drink in a more private setting, with similar facilities that restaurants, bars or pubs offered. (Parveen Kumar/HT PHOTO)
An ahata on National Highway-48 in Gurugram on Friday. For years, these ahatas operated across several floors, providing ample space for patrons to drink in a more private setting, with similar facilities that restaurants, bars or pubs offered. (Parveen Kumar/HT PHOTO)

The policy, which was passed by the Haryana Cabinet on May 15, states that an ahata can run only on one level. A senior excise official, requesting anonymity, said that the decision comes in response to numerous complaints from restaurants, pubs, and bar owners. “These business owners argued that ahatas were flouting excise rules, creating an uneven playing field and affecting their livelihood,” he said.

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Jitender Dudi, deputy excise and taxation commissioner (DETC), west, said that the policy has been designed keeping all stakeholders in mind. “They can run it only on 1 floor and not multiple floors. If they are running a vend on the ground floor then they can run a tavern on the first floor. They will now be restricted from operating across multiple floors, a move that is designed to bring order and fairness to the city’s drinking joints,” he said.

Dudi said the auction will start from May 27 and depending on who gets which liquor vend, they will make their own ahatas. “The existing ones will either be demolished or vacated and will be modified before June 12,” he said.

For years, these ahatas operated across several floors, providing ample space for patrons to drink in a more private setting, with similar facilities that restaurants, bars or pubs offered. However, what started as a means to prevent open drinking quickly turned into an opportunity for some to exploit the system. Multiple floors meant more room for more customers, often leading to overcrowding and violations of various safety norms.

At least 10 ahatas have been shut since January this year in a joint raid by the chief minister’s flying squad and the excise department. The establishments were running illegally beyond permissible timings, and were also serving flavoured hookah, police said.

“The ahatas have to pay 3% of the bidding amount of the liquor vend they are attached with and timing are till the attached vend is open but they are not allowed to sell or serve liquor. If they wish to run operations for up to four additional hours after midnight, they will have to pay 25% of liquor vend annual fees and 50% upto 8 hours,” said Dudi.

Restaurant owners said their business had been hit due to these ahatas which were operating without paying taxes and hefty liquor licence fees. “The footfall in these places is higher as compared to the restaurants just because the liquor is cheaper and they allow to bring their own bottles. The food cost is actually higher. There needs to be some difference between restaurants and ahatas, if they continue to run operations like this, the industry will face a hit,” said Rohit Singh, one of the owners of a restaurant.

Another owner said that many people have shut their business due to these fancy ahatas since they are attracting more crowds and the younger generation prefer visiting these since they offer live music, dance, and different food festivals since they don’t have to pay any additional fees. They operate till 4 am without any additional excise fee but we need to shell out nearly 60 lakh,” said Arvind Sharma, owner of a restaurant.

Owners of ahatas in the city said there has been a rise in footfall over the last 10 years after they started introducing live music, performances and an expansive food menu. At least five ahata owners, said they had witnessed a growth of 40-50% in the number of customers over the last few years.

Neeraj Singh, one of the owners of a prominent ahata, said that business has improved as many people from Delhi, Noida and other parts of Haryana are drawn to the casual vibe of ahatas, where they can enjoy an evening without spending too much. However, despite their expansion and growing popularity among partygoers, these establishments appear to be doing little to address the issue of public drinking in the city. We are waiting for the auction to take place and accordingly, we will try to get the best locations. We will change the concept and will work from one floor only,” he said adding that this new rule will impact the night life in Gurugram.

Ahatas came up in the city in 2007, after a new excise policy was announced in order to avoid the nuisance of people standing on the road and drinking after Gurugram gained an international image for its multinational lifestyle and growing migration. They started as small spaces with bamboo sheds, but have now turned into places with live music, special appearances by world-class bartenders and eye-popping interiors.

After the new excise policy of April 2016 barred pubs and bars from serving liquor at rooftop gardens, lawns and other open spaces, their popularity boomed and 62 ahatas were opened.

Rahul Singh, trustee, National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) and founder of Beer Cafe said these ahatas in reality are not following the rule book. “As stated in the excise policy, the prime objective of tavern L-52 license (popularly known as Ahatas and BYOB joints ) is to have a space attached to a retail vend to prevent drinking in public,” he said.

“They have to adhere to all the statutory provisions of fire safety, FSSAI, pollution norms and taxation. Operating out of a single floor is the new mandate in the upcoming policy,” Singh added. “Our request is for adherence to the provisions. Opening till 4am, having multiple floors, live entertainment, entry charges and promoting explicitly on social media channels needs to be kept in check,” he said.

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