How to improve Delhi’s nightlife
A new proposal is set to spur the 24/7 economy. But authorities must ensure it is safe and equitable
For decades, with most establishments shutting either at or shortly after midnight, nightlife in Delhi has meant one of two things. The well-off would party in five-star establishments and exclusive nightclubs in some select neighbourhoods in the Capital and drive back to their homes. For the rest, there were the grimy fly-by-night eateries typically operating near transport hubs such as the railway station and bus terminus or seedy establishments operating clandestinely. Either way, the experience was unsatisfactory and unsafe, especially for women, many of whom came to associate being out late at night with threats and lewd comments from strangers. To be sure, such experiences were uniform across cities, which may have made big strides to match their global counterparts in many aspects, but which remained woefully anachronistic in their views of running a 24/7 economy. Food delivery services eased the pain somewhat, but nightlife was still exclusionary, deeply uneven, and dangerously unsafe.
A new proposal in Delhi is trying to change all that. Delhi lieutenant-governor VK Saxena has approved an application allowing 314 establishments, including hotels, restaurants, medicine stores, and transport services, to function round the clock. They will be granted exemptions under the 1954 Delhi Shops and Establishments Act with an aim to revitalise the city’s minuscule night economy. A report in HT said that Mr Saxena ordered the official notification to be issued within seven days, after which the establishments can start functioning throughout the night. This is a timely move. Across the world, leading cities such as London, Berlin, and New York permit a wide-ranging array of establishments to run round the clock, drawing tourists from across the world to their vibrant nightlife while boosting local economies and incomes. There is no reason why Delhi cannot join their ranks — a point made in the draft master plan for Delhi, 2041. Other cities should follow suit and help their citizens and economies in the process.
But the authorities must keep in mind the need to augment infrastructure and bolster law and order. The first is to ensure the availability of public transport in the late hours of the night. Most global nightlife hubs have reliable and safe public transport that acts as a lifeline when private transport is either exorbitantly priced or unreliable. The government must also ensure that streets are safe, especially for women and those who may not have their own vehicle. And most of all, it will have to see that the night economy doesn’t become exclusionary and reserved for the privileged.