The country’s financial capital will now live up to its image as a city that never sleeps. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has given his nod to pubs and bars staying open all night on all days of the week, meeting the long pending demand of the industry and tourism sectors to relax nightlife norms.
Significantly, Mr Fadnavis has also agreed to bring down the drinking age from 25 to 21.
Legal experts, however, say it could be a long time before the decisions are implemented. They cite the example of the Maharashtra Casino (Control and Tax) Act, passed by both the Houses in 1976, but which is yet to be notified by the government.
“By not notifying this, the state government has carried out a constitutional fraud. It highlights the moral inhibitions of this government. If they implement it they are doomed, if they don’t then also they are in trouble. I am not sure how much of nightlife they will be able to open up,” said lawyer Jay Sayta, who has filed a petition against the Maharashtra government for not notifying the casino Act.
The city currently takes its last swig at midnight in bars and at 1.30 am in pubs. The new norms, once implemented, will stretch parties in bars and hotels until dawn. Drinking permits, too, will be done away with, if the recommendations made by Accenture in its report to the government get implemented.
Abolition of permit rooms and permits for drinking, joint grant of operational and construction permits in a single stroke and cutting down permissions from the current 142 to just 20 are among the other proposals the Chief Minister has agreed to in principle.
“The Chief Minister has in principle approved the Accenture report. We will roll out a policy based on this after some minor changes," Praveen Pardeshi, principal secretary to the CM, told The Hindu.
An intense debate has raged over Mumbai’s nightlife – a city considered cosmopolitan and liberal, but where pubs and bars shut shop too early for its vibrant image.
While the relaxed norms will bring much cheer to Mumbaikars, resident associations have raised concerns that hotel owners will get away with gross violation in construction if they are given a long rope.
Of the 71 permissions required at the operational level, many have been identified as insignificant and would be deleted, according to Accenture’s report, which was commissioned by the Maharashtra government. The report recommends that of the total 142 licences, 29 should be merged. The remaining 113 should be brought down to 20.
Restaurant and hotel owners said they face a huge challenge – on one hand is the growing popularity of eating out as a regular form of entertainment. On the other hand are stringent norms that prevent them from catering to this growing clientele.
The Accenture plan predicts that tourist expenditure in Mumbai will double, so will the average length of stay in Mumbai, currently two days for domestic tourists and four for foreign.
The average tourist expenditure a day is Rs 6,718 for foreign and Rs 3,141 for domestic tourists in the city.
The report predicts a rise in employment opportunities from the 60 million (direct and indirect) jobs generated by the tourism sector in Maharashtra. “Lately, Maharashtra has seen a falling growth rate in the trade, hotel and restaurant sector due to tough competition from other States and neglect of tourism by the State. Peer states are moving beyond the conventional source market, taking advantage of their niche markets and indulging in extravagant promotional activities,” the report states.