Restaurants in Delhi may open 24x7 soon
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Wednesday issued directions to allow restaurants to operate 24x7 with necessary safety measures in place and to do away with several licence-related restrictions, including those on service in open spaces such as balconies. The move was in keeping with promises that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) made ahead of assembly polls in February this year.
Currently, restaurants are allowed to operate from 11am to 11pm in the Capital. Those licensed to serve liquor can operate from 11am to 1am. There are roughly 20,000 registered restaurants in the city, of which nearly 650 are licensed to serve alcoholic beverages.
The relaxations initiated by the chief minister include doing away with the health-trade licence, a mandatory requirement for running a restaurant (and one that needs to be renewed periodically), from municipal corporations, and the tourism licence, apart from changes in excise rules to allow restaurants to store liquor anywhere in the premises and review of fire safety norms, especially in old and heritage markets such as Connaught Place and Khan Market, a senior official in the chief minister’s office said.
The official said Kejriwal assured the business fraternity that he would soon chair another meeting to discuss the possibility of doing away with a licence that restaurant owners have to avail from the police.
The relaxations announced by the CM are covered under departments and agencies that include the municipal corporations, tourism, excise, fire and the police. Some of these could require a separate approval by the agencies concerned — including the police and the lieutenant governor, which report to the Centre.
Kejriwal announced the measures after a meeting with a delegation of the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI), which was also attended by deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, chief secretary Vijay Dev and commissioners of the three municipal corporations, the official said.
“Delhi’s restaurants are the pride of Delhi and provide employment to lakhs of people. I have directed all the respective departments to remove unnecessary hassles in the smooth running of restaurants in Delhi,” said Kejriwal after the meeting, adding that a detailed representation was received from the NRAI to “provide relief and ease regulations and the permit raj” acting as hurdles in the growth of the industry in the Capital.
In its manifesto for the 2020 assembly elections, the AAP had promised to do away with “permit raj” in Delhi. During the poll campaign, it mentioned 24x7 markets in Delhi, including both shops and restaurants, in line with a similar decision by the Maharashtra government in January.
Also Read | India’s first Covid-19 wave finally recedes
“On the request of restaurateurs to allow 24x7 business, it was agreed that the restaurants will be allowed to operate at all hours subject to the condition that they submit an undertaking that they will take care of the health and security of their entire staff. This will help the industry generate more employment in the national capital through higher demand. This will set an example for the Delhi Model of ease of doing business,” the Delhi government said in a press statement.
The official in the chief minister’s office said, “The law does not prohibit round-the-clock operation of restaurants. There can be policy decisions that have been followed. That can be one reason why Delhi restaurants could never operate 24x7 despite the matter being on the table for several years now. That is going to change.”
Another government official added that the police had opposed the 24x7 policy at several points in the past.
“The police were opposed because 24x7 restaurants or bars would mean more patrolling and security during the night. The strength of the force was also not enough, which may be the reason for opposition to the plan. There are 24x7 outlets in five-star hotels in Delhi too. In my opinion, we can have round-the-clock restaurants but the plan needs to be carefully worked out. In a place like CP, which is a popular marketplace, having such restaurants won’t be a problem but what happens if such a place is located in a residential colony. It cannot be a carte blanche,” said former Delhi Police commissioner Neeraj Kumar.
In its statement, the Delhi government said, “The CM instructed (on Wednesday) that health-trade licences, which are issued by the municipal corporations to restaurants should be abolished within 10 days.”
The official in the CMO said, “The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), a body operating under the Union government, already has a protocol for issuing safety and hygiene licences. So, health-trade licences of the MCDs would lead to duplication. Restaurant associations had requested the CM’s intervention in this regard. There are other fees and charges which restaurants have to pay to MCDs; those can stay. But the health-trade licence can be done away with.”
A spokesperson of the south municipal corporation said they will respond after getting an official communication. “We shall examine the matter and respond accordingly. The municipal corporations are legally empowered to grant health-trade licences to eateries and such commercial establishments under sections 417 and 421 of the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act.”
The government statement said: “In addition, a decision was also taken to completely do away with licences from the tourism department to open or run a restaurant. Decisions were also taken in today’s meeting to immediately amend excise rules to permit service in open areas, balconies, verandahs, etc, without any additional fee, …to permit licences for all types of music, including DJs, live music bands, and karaoke, to abolish the requirement of a designated liquor store and to allow the stock to be kept anywhere in the licensed premises.”
Excise and tourism departments come under the domain of the Delhi government.
A senior government official said since the police come under the domain of the central government, the CM would need further discussions with the stakeholders before taking any calls on licences and permissions issued by the police. “Restaurant owners have urged intervention in this matter. Their argument is that restaurants are a part of the retail sector and no other retail establishment is required to obtain a licence from the police,” the official said.
Dinesh Arora, a restaurateur and president of the Delhi restaurants and clubs association, said: “Restaurants are not dealing with anything illegal so why do they need a special licence from the police. It never made any sense. Fire safety, food and hygiene-related licences are still understandable. As far as law and order issues are concerned, people in restaurants can always dial 100 like people in any other place in the city. These licence-related relaxations and the freedom to operate 24x7 are a welcome move.”
Former commissioner Neeraj Kumar said the formula is followed in cities that follow the commisionerate system. Before granting the licence, officers check the safety plan, which is important during an emergency, he said. Another important aspect they look at is traffic and the parking management plan. It is important to check if the place could be a source of traffic hazard, Kumar said.
“Police are the first responders and it is important that they have a look at the place before issuing the licence to operate,” he said.
The government statement said, “On the request of simplifying fire norms for restaurants situated in old and heritage sites such as CP, Khan Market, etc, it was decided that a technical committee would be constituted, which in 10 days will examine ways to enhance fire safety in such locations, without the need to make structural changes to the existing restaurants. Based on the recommendations of the committee, the CM will decide on the application of uniform fire safety norms in Delhi.”
Navneet Kalra, owner of restaurants such as Khan Chacha and Townhall in Khan Market, said: “Currently, structural changes are not allowed in heritage buildings. The law should provide room for certain measures which can ensure better compliance to fire safety rules. For instance, in Khan Market there is a proposal for a fire safety corridor. Such structural changes are necessary for ensuring safety. The directions of the chief minister, if implemented in time, can bring big relief to the industry.”
Riyaaz Amlani, a restaurateur and member of the National Restaurants Association of India, said: “Restaurants are one of the key sectors for employment generation in the city, with lakhs of people employed in the industry. It is currently one of the most overregulated industries, requiring multiple NOCs and duplication of licences. These measures will provide the necessary boost that the industry needs, unleash employment potential and help the tourism industry.”