Mumbai 24x7: it’s baby steps yet

The city, they say, never sleeps. Or does it?

From this weekend, Mumbai will do its best to live up to the tag. Forget about London or Singapore, all you want to do at night will be made available right here, with the State government officially opening up the city’s services 24x7.

Tourism Minister Aaditya Thackeray, who has been pushing his Mumbai 24x7 plan for years, announced this week, “From January 26, the policy will be implemented in Nariman Point, Kala Ghoda, BKC and mill compounds.”

Malls, stores, restaurants, multiplexes, salons and all establishments can now stay open 24x7 provided they do not serve alcohol. They will not require additional clearances, as long as they have all the requisite permissions from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), Mumbai Fire Brigade and police.

A senior civic official, who did not wish to be named, said any commercial establishment that does not serve alcohol located inside a gated community, mill compound or a commercial area will be allowed to stay open 24x7. “They do not need separate permissions, but the rules for serving alcohol stay the same,” the official said. Alcohol can currently be served only up to 1.30 a.m.

Some of Mumbai’s establishments have taken cue, staying open through Friday night. They plan to keep the buzz all the way to Sunday, while others are still testing the waters. But more than them, the Mumbai 24x7 plan is a test of political will.

Who will stay open?

So far, malls such as R City in Ghatkopar, Atria Mall in Worli, Phoenix in Lower Parel and Kurla, Growel’s 101 in Kandivali, Infiniti in Malad and Andheri, Star Mall at Dadar, Fun Republic in Andheri, apart from several restaurants in Kamala Mills, have expressed interest in staying open through the night this weekend.

The Multiplex Association of India has said multiplexes such as CR2 in Nariman Point and Viviana Cinepolis in Thane will have late night shows on an experimental basis this weekend.

McDonald’s has announced that its seven restaurants will stay open through the night over the weekend. Apart from these, most large establishments will wait to see the response this weekend before committing to the proposal. Also, most have said they are yet to have the logistics and infrastructure in place.

Mumbai 24x7: it’s baby steps yet

Those who are on board have welcomed the initiative and are laying out on the benefits.

R City, for instance, has lined up late night offers, deals and entertainment options. “We have given the liberty to our retail partners to choose work timings and the deals they would like to offer to consumers,” said Santush Kumar Pandde, head, R City Mall.

The Tourism Department’s idea of trying it out over the weekend, he said, will help the malls understand consumer behaviour and the profitability for various businesses, “basis which this initiative can be tweaked in the long run.”

Westlife, which has 315 restaurants — 94 in Mumbai and 46 within the BMC jurisdiction — will keep all its seven McDonald’s restaurants open and plans to scale this up. “We are very excited about this move and believe that this will truly make Mumbai a ‘maximum city’. It will help boost business for brands and generate employment,” said Saurabh Kalra, senior director, strategy and operations, at Westlife Development (McD). “McDonald’s restaurants in many parts of the globe operate 24X7 and have seen significant success. We hope to replicate this in Mumbai,” he said.

Sachin Dhanawade, chief operating officer, retail and real estate, Grauer & Weil (India) Limited (Growel’s 101), said, “We appreciate the concept of 24x7 in Mumbai and are happy to support the initiative; however, it is imperative that we take feedback from our retail partners.”

While Growel’s 101’s entertainment and food and beverage tenants have responded positively to the plan, most retailers are working on their revenue versus expense projections to assess the financial impact, he said. “We are also reviewing the cost impact that would be generated for tenants to support the initiative partially, if not fully. To begin with, we may consider trying this out on Fridays and Saturdays.”

The logistics

The initiative will mean the police will need to beef up its monitoring, whereas for the BMC, it is only a question of increasing awareness on the new state of affairs.

“This is an enabling provision; the laws were already in place. No new permissions will be needed,” said a senior BMC official on condition of anonymity. The BMC, he said, is putting up frequently asked questions on its website and plans to start a helpline for anyone who wishes to report untoward activities. “This is a self-regulatory policy: establishments will themselves have to adhere to guidelines, else have their permissions revoked.” For instance, the Excise Department will revoke the liquor licence if anyone is serving alcohol after the deadline. Food trucks, he said, cannot be started yet as a policy is in the offing.

The police, on the other hand, is keeping close watch on a few locations — with some help from the establishments themselves.

The government on Thursday directed the Commissioner of Police to prepare a proposal regarding additional deployment that may be required.

Nine locations are on the police radar, where malls and eateries will be allowed to stay open all night, and if private establishments require police security, they will have to pay for it, Home Minister Anil Deshmukh had said on Thursday.

The Mumbai Police said the fact that the malls will have their own security measures in place will help enforce law and order once the change comes into effect. With ample lighting, security personnel and CCTV cameras in place inside the establishments, the police will focus more on the area outside and around them.

“We will be increasing patrolling as well as deployment in the relevant areas to ensure that there are no law and order issues. We already have a CCTV camera network in place which lets us view events in real time in the control room,” Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Vinoy Kumar Choubey said.

Mr. Choubey said meetings with the establishments’ managements will be held at the police-station level so that police can get a sense of the existing security measures and accordingly work out deployment and patrolling.

Activities like keeping a check on antisocial elements, especially those who commit thefts in crowded areas, will need to be stepped up.

Police officers said only weekends will need special focus as on other days, people will have to go for work, or take their children to school the next morning.

Political pow-wow

Apart from being a step towards making the city a truly international one and boosting tourism, the success of the plan is a litmus test for Mr. Thackeray. The Shiv Sena scion said, on Friday, that London’s night economy is worth £5 billion, and the nightlife proposal can lead to large-scale employment generation. Mumbai’s service sector employs around five lakh people, he said.

Mr. Thackeray had conceptualised the Mumbai 24x7 project when he was still in the Yuva Sena. The move was seen as another attempt by the Sena to distance itself from its former ‘anti-Valentine’s Day’ avatar, and make it more youthful.

But the going has not exactly been smooth. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Ameet Satam had demanded night markets be allowed in the city instead, and the two parties sparred in the BMC several times over the proposals.

In 2018, the BJP-Sena government gave it the go-ahead and even issued a notification subject to police approval.

The police had concerns related to law and order, and it was never implemented.

But earlier this month, Mr. Thackeray, now Tourism Minister and Guardian Minister for Mumbai Suburban District, convened a meeting with Municipal Commissioner Praveen Pardeshi and Police Commissioner Sanjay Barve, along with representatives of various establishments. It was decided that the government would go ahead with the policy.

However, based on a 2017 report of consultancy firm Accenture, Mr. Barve is believed to have conveyed to the government that 6,500 additional police personnel will be needed if the nightlife plan has to be implemented across the city and not just in pockets.

On Friday, Mr. Thackeray said there would be no strain on the police. Since establishments cannot serve alcohol after 1.30 a.m., police will only have to focus on law and order issues, if any.

Political parties are not convinced, though.

The BJP has criticised the project, bringing its oft-repeated argument out of the bag: “it is against Indian culture.”

On Friday, Mr. Satam tweeted, “Mumbai needs ease of living, good roads, clear footpaths free of encroachment, proper hawking policy, public transportation… Night life is not the priority at the moment. Aping the West is not the solution.”

Mr. Satam has written to the Municipal Commissioner to not introduce nightlife in Juhu for security reasons.

What the people want

If social media is any indication of what Mumbaikars think of the idea, it appears not everyone is gung-ho. One Twitter user @ViolentVeggy wrote: “So, I can get a haircut at 2 a.m., go to the bank, but I cannot get a drink. Non-drinkers can get food all night long #Mumbaineversleeps.”

Another user @amind1970 wrote: “...Does that mean our festivals can also be celebrated beyond 10 p.m.? Nightlife comes with serious security threats and burden on police. The staff in all these establishments also have to commute to and fro, please think about their safety too. Plus, the burden on trains, buses, autos, police, traffic police etc.”

The move may be big-bang for now, but almost everyone in Mumbai is watching if it will work.

What the 2017 report said

The previous BJP-Sena government in the State had commisisoned Accenture in 2017 for an Ease of Business Report on the hospitality industry.

The report had predicted that tourist expenditure and average length of stay in Mumbai will double if the 24x7 plan is implemented. The stay is pegged at two days for domestic and four for foreign tourists in Mumbai.

The average tourist expenditure per day is ₹6,718 for foreign tourists and ₹3,141 for domestic tourists.

The report also predicted a rise in employment opportunities from the existing 60 million (direct and indirect) jobs generated by the tourism sector in Maharashtra.

Of the 71 permissions required at the operational level by bars and restaurants, many are insignificant and should be deleted, the report said.

Of the 142 licences, 29 should be merged, while the remaining 113 should be brought down to 20, it said. The report recommended the abolition of permit rooms and permits for drinking.

On the basis of the report, the government announced it would do away with drinking permits. However, the Mumbai Police objected to this.

A note from the Maharashtra Home Department had asked the then police commissioner to speak to the municipal commissioner to identify select spots where nightlife could be opened up. But that never happened.

The to-do list

The BMC has issued several instructions to establishments. Some of them are:

Give an undertaking to the Excise Department stating they will not serve alcohol beyond 1.30 a.m. Display this notice to customers

Permissions to play music by live bands in concourse areas within malls may be considered, provided there are no tickets being sold

Permission to extend screening time in theatres beyond 1 a.m. can be sought (Labour Department to issue clarification)

If the scheme is successful, establishments may have to pay the police for their services

Authorities might consider extending the timing of public transport like BEST in these areas

(With inputs from Gautam S. Mengle, Lalatendu Mishra)

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 10:27:21 PM |

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