'Government doesn't offer us opportunities every day, we should grab it'

Updated: Jan 26, 2020, 07:59 IST | Aastha Atray Banan, Gaurav Sarkar | Mumbai

A freewheeling discussion between hospitality entrepreneurs, politicos and citizen reps unfolds quite unexpectedly to reveal that by and large, all parties are in favour of Mumbai extending its leisure hours, if safety is uncompromised.

(From left) Anup Gandhi, Kunal Vardhan, Dhaval Shah, Tajinder Singh Tiwana, Rahul Kanal, Mihir Desai and Chirag Maru at the Mid-day Infomedia Limited office in Bandra. Pics/ Ashish Rane
(From left) Anup Gandhi, Kunal Vardhan, Dhaval Shah, Tajinder Singh Tiwana, Rahul Kanal, Mihir Desai and Chirag Maru at the Mid-day Infomedia Limited office in Bandra. Pics/ Ashish Rane

At a cabinet meeting last week, state tourism minister Aaditya Thackeray announced that the proposal to keep shops, multiplexes and restaurants in Mumbai open round the clock has been approved by the Maharashtra Cabinet. This laid the road for fulfilling his long cherished plan, Mumbai open 24x7, starting January 27.

In a pilot move, or what is being called Phase 1, the policy will apply to willing establishments housed inside gated properties with CCTV surveillance facilities, adequate security personnel and parking, away from residential areas. Thackeray has pitched this as an opportunity to increase jobs in the service sector, and additional revenue generation. Standalone retail and food-drink establishments will not be part of the pilot, and no eatery or bar irrespective of its location can serve alcohol after 1.30 am. Any restaurant within gated properties with all licenses in place can remain operational 24x7 without the need to take additional permission or licenses from the authorities.

The meeting was attended by the Municipal Commissioner, Police Commissioner, government representatives and select hospitality entrepreneurs.

The BJP has opposed the move, saying it jeopardises safety and security of citizens, while the police has agreed to increase night patrolling. While some establishments have offered an enthusiastic response, others prefer the wait-and-watch approach. Questions, doubts and differing opinion abound mere days before the policy kicks off.

Rahul Kanal and Mihir Desai
Rahul Kanal and Mihir Desai

Sunday mid-day decided to clear the air by bringing together in one room representatives of citizens groups, political outfits, retail and hospitality businesses.
Edited excerpts from the discussion.

The Mumbai 24x7 functional city plan was long in the pipeline. How did we finally get here?

Rahul Kanal: It's been six years in the making. It has taken multiple meetings, and has seen us go through phases [of discussion]. For us, 24x7 Mumbai stands for non-discrimination. Any party opposing it should ask itself why didn't it stand in opposition when the five-stars got permission to stay open all night through. Is it okay only for a certain section to enjoy the privilege? What about the middle-class?

Tajinder Singh Tiwana: My party's [BJP] stand is very clear. We will support the decision only if the peace and security of residents is not compromised. I would like to also ask Aaditya Thackeray to clarify how more employment will be generated and tourism promoted, like he says. The police commissioner says that to implement security for the policy, he needs 6,500 more personnel. And, why didn't the ruling party call all elected representatives and people's representatives for a debate on the pros and cons of this policy before bringing it in?

Longer business hours means more revenue. Doesn't it have obvious profit potential?

Anup Gandhi: Every slot of the day attracts a different segment of customers. There is a huge segment that wants to do something between 1.30 am and 6 am. We have all at some point, eaten out at 2 or 3 am, but it's not possible to visit a five-star every time. Sometimes, I feel like a snack, say a burger, or I want to order something home. I would like to get hot food late at night. Someone needs to cook it and deliver it. It is going to bring in revenue. Taxes will come in, profits will go up.

People are talking about law and order, but what does that have to do with time? Safety concerns are valid in the day too. We are not children. To be progressive, we need to first start treating people like adults.

For restaurant and bar owners, is this profit worth the extra expenditure?

Mihir Desai: We will learn of it only once on the floor. It will take a few months for it to reveal itself. But, if my guess is right, it will work. We work in break shifts [morning to evening, and evening to closing]. We won't need a third shift. The staff could work for just a few hours extra. And get paid extra.
Gandhi: It's not just about profitability. It's about creating a model and experimenting with my original identity. [I am a resto-bar till 1.30 am] But I may decide to serve only burgers between 1 am and 6 am. I may spin the game. The policy is about being liberal to do business. If the government is trying to make it [late night operations] legitimate, we should accept it.

Tiwana: So, if as Mihir says, we will see the true picture after a few months, why didn't the government decide to conduct a trial run before launching full throttle? We should have tried it over for a few weekends. How was the selection of properties done and licences handed out?

Kanal: I must make it clear that this policy doesn't apply to residential areas, only to gated properties.
Tiwana: But Kamala Mills is gated, and a fire broke out there. People died.
Kanal: Fires break out in Mantralaya, too!
Tiwana: I am ready to welcome it [policy]. Just offer me clarity.
Gandhi: Coming back to what Tajinder asked, about how is allotment done... In Montreal, for instance, they have a dedicated street where food trucks are set up. They floated tenders, and those who won the tenders got the business. Maybe we can try that here.

Rahul, even if the permission is restricted to malls and mills, there is going to be an overflow, and it's bound to affect residential areas. How will you deal with that?

Dhaval Shah: First, define “gated community”'. Is Star Bazaar on Link Road a gated property? Is it a mall?
Kanal: It's a mall for sure. But when we say gated property, we mean an enclosed space that is fire compliant, has the required CFO license, no-objection certificate from the police, etc.
Shah: If all malls are included in the policy, residents are going to fight it. Some malls have rooftop clubs, which play loud music. We have complained in the past too about music continuing post time [10 pm deadline]. We have to consider safety but also look at decibel levels. Will establishments be allowed to play music post 1.30 am?
Kanal: We have set up a redressal committee. Even if there is a single complaint, it could lead to the authorities considering cancelling the establishment's license.
Shah: So, does it mean that music can be played after
1.30 am?
Kanal: If a restaurant or bar flouts a rule, or plays loud music post 1.30 am or serves alcohol after that time, the license will be cancelled.

Tajinder Singh Tiwana and Anup GandhiTajinder Singh Tiwana and Anup Gandhi

The police has made it clear that the onus of safety, security and maintaining law and order within the establishment rests with the owners. Are you prepared for this?

Kanal: But that has always been the case.
Kunal Vardhan: We haven't received an order that clarifies how to implement the policy. It's a bit haphazard. But in the meeting that I attended [between government and stakeholders], I got a sense that they want to push it. They have taken a step forward and will see how it goes. I welcomed the decision at the meeting. I went back and called my vendors, and everyone seems excited. Atria is a 7/11 for Mumbai; you can come and spend five hours eating, shopping, watching a movie. Imagine this facility being available to you 24x7. Starbucks will be open all the time. When people are out and about, safety is enhanced.

The government doesn't offer us opportunities every day, so we should grab it. A law and order situation can arise if drinking continues beyond deadline, but we have decided to have staff patrol the mall to make sure that alcohol is off the tables at 1.30 am. The idea can go a long way. In some time, 24x7 won't be a novel move, it will be the norm.

Should it eventually be extended beyond malls and mills? For instance, look at allowing late access to beaches?

Vardhan: To throw all of Mumbai open can cause a law and order problem.
Chirag Maru: Property consultants like myself have tried to create hubs across the city, whether it's Kamala Mills or BKC. We were inspired by international cities, which house similar pockets of commercial and leisure activity. Rather than opening up all of Mumbai, we should try and create more such hubs, so that residents aren't disturbed. Much like LKF in Hong Kong, which is a complete business district. There will be brawls occasionally. That is the nature of the business, but when you restrict late-night business to pockets, it's safer for everyone.
Gandhi: We need to make the city better planned.
Tiwana: So you admit that brawls can happen?
Desai: They happen in the day too.
Gandhi: I think we should be okay with legitimate spaces working at extended timings. Mumbai is dynamic, and it's going to keep changing and evolving. You have to keep up with the times.
Vardhan: But it's not just about eating and drinking. It can be about getting a haircut at night because you were too busy in the day, or watching a very late night show of a film. Think of that [opportunity].

How will it influence the real estate scenario?

Maru: Going forward, I see art galleries [staying open], or sound and light shows being put up. People from certain pockets like say, Borivli, have to travel to other suburbs for leisure. And they don't want to due to traffic and construction. Opening hubs in virgin areas will address this.
Vardhan: It will also decrease traffic [snarls], because commute across the city for leisure will be distributed over longer hours.

Have you thought of how you might creatively use your establishment in the extra hours?

Gandhi:  I would start a spin-off of my brand. After 1.30 am, I may say, come listen to vinyl. I may open a recording studio [in the space]. I can do late night deliveries of dishes from my menu. Instead of going to some random place for a roll, you will come to Bonobo or Jamjar.

Maru:  The restaurants could look at creating late night-specific menus.

Gandhi: We can think up a hundred ideas. We can look at super-cheap eats, or offer gourmet sandwiches at 4 am. The option for people like me to do business and sell food legitimately is now available.

We keep comparing ourselves to London. But in England and Wales, they  have approx. 208 policemen per 100,000 people, while in all of India, that figure is approx. 144, per 100,000 people.  

Kanal: London gets 17 million tourists, Mumbai gets 0.5 million. They have to handle that large a number. 

Gandhi: If this model works, and the government makes revenue in taxes, it can look at making more policemen available. 

Maru: The government has taken an initiative, and there are some intelligent consumers, businessman and politicians who will I am sure work at ironing out problems that arise. 

Dhaval Shah and Chirag MaruDhaval Shah and Chirag Maru

The Panel 

Anup Gandhi

Co-owner, rooftop bar Bonobo and casual diner Jamjar

Mihir Desai 

Co-owner, Bar Stock Exchange chain of budget bars

Chirag Maru

Real estate consultant, T  Realty 

Kunal Vardhan

Owner, Atria Mall, Worli 

Rahul N Kanal

Core committee member, Yuva Sena 

Tajinder Singh Tiwana

City president, Bharatiya Janta Yuva Morcha 

Dhaval Shah

Founder, Lokhandwala-Oshiwara Citizens Association

Pilot-phase gated properties with 24x7 permission

  • Atria Mall, Worli
  • Growel 101, Kandivali
  • Phoenix Market City, Kurla
  • High Street Phoenix, Lower Parel
  • Oberoi Mall, Goregaon
  • Fun Republic Mall, Andheri
  • Kamala Mills Compound, Lower Parel
  • Mathuradas Mill Compound (Todi Mill), Lower Parel
  • Victoria Mill Compound, Lower Parel

The last word

Tiwana: My party’s stand is that if the safety and security of citizens is not compromised, we will think about supporting the move

Gandhi: Mumbai needs to be a pulsating, glamorous city, that it has potential to be. We should welcome the move, not oppose it. We should try and make this work

Vardhan: For a citizen like myself, a real estate professional, that I may get to see this realised is nothing short of amazing. Let’s see how it goes, good or bad. If we get by the teething phase, we will be known globally as a 24x7 city. [Serving] Alcohol is a problem, so that’s something to take care of

Kanal: The fact that a young leader has got this policy passed, is commendable. Yes, security is a concern, but we will figure it out as we go along

Desai: Citizens and businessman have to take care of themselves, and be responsible. Aaditya has done the right thing

Shah: As a residents’ body representative, I welcome the move, but not without putting safeguards in place. We need clarity on decibel level violation, and what defines a gated community

Maru: Maybe, the government should spend some money to have sound proofing [around the late-night establishments]. They should also identify specific entertainment hubs, that don’t have residential settlements around. Why not look at Ballard Estate?

Jan 27
Date policy kicks in

1.30am
Deadline for alcohol service

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