With restaurants all over the country downing shutters demanding the rollback of the Central government’s service tax on air-conditioned eateries, regulars like M. Balaji, an official with the State Bank of India, had to be content with snacks in the place of a proper lunch.
“My regular hotel was closed and so I had to make do with just a vegetable puff and a cup of juice. In the morning, I had a cup of oats. I know their bandh was against double taxation but they could have shown their protest in some other fashion instead of closing hotels down,” said Mr. Balaji.
There are over 5,000 hotels in the city and of these, around 3,000 are air-conditioned. There are around 25,000 hotels in the State. Many of these downed shutters from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. They were demanding that the Central government repeal the Food Safety and Standards Act, make available coins and repeal the service tax for air-conditioned restaurants.
K.T. Srinivasa Raja, president Chennai Hotels Association, said that according to estimates, Rs.100 crore worth of business takes place in the hotel industry in Chennai alone, every day.
“It was only after customers started complaining about yet another tax did the association decide to join the all-India bandh. We had started collecting the new tax from April 1. After all, when there is only one product, why should there be two taxes,” he said.
M. Venkadasubbu, president, Tamil Nadu Hotels Association said that in 13 districts including Pudukottai, Theni, Sivaganga, Thiruvannamalai and Thiruvarur, there was 100 per cent support for the bandh. “Even tea shops and bakeries that are not affected by this tax extended their support. The hotel industry, which is already in dire straits with poor power supply, lack of labour and increasing prices of vegetables, will greatly suffer if another tax is in place,” he said.
Most hotels took the time out to get some maintenance work done and spruce up their premises.
Those involved in production came to work only by 3 p.m. instead of the usual 4 a.m. T. Ramasubburaj, a driver at Adyar Ananda Bhavan, said he spent the day sleeping and washing clothes. “I am usually at work by 6 a.m. but today I reported only by 3 p.m. It was also nice to get some rest,” he said.
The Chennai Corporation’s herbal canteen inside Ripon Buildings campus and Amma Canteens helped many in the city. “My colleagues usually eat outside. They were able to manage because they ate at the Mooligai Unavagam. I bought an induction stove and so am able to cook sambar rice. But now, after a tiring day at work, I am happy that the hotels opened as I don’t want to cook now,” said M. Ravindran, a Central government employee.