The Delhi government has suddenly held up the excise licences of over 40 odd restaurants in the national capital, allegedly without giving any notice or reason for the move. Prakul Kumar, secretary general, National Restaurant Association of India, told The Sunday Guardian, “The Delhi government has held up excise licences without any prior notice. This sudden stoppage of excise licences to restaurants is causing huge financial losses for the industry in view of the substantial investments made by way of high rentals, running salaries and other operating costs.”
“Licence applications of many restaurants are at various stages of processing. In some cases, inspections have been completed and even fees have been paid, yet licences are not being granted to them,” Prakul added.
Riyaaz Amlani, president of the National Restaurant Association of India, told The Sunday Guardian, “Such a move (stopping new licences) will be a regressive step and goes against the Delhi government’s promise on ease of doing business. Restaurants provide for safe and licenced premises for liquor service. Any stoppage in Delhi will drive the customer, and more importantly the revenue, to neighbouring states. With restaurants not getting licences, there will be an increase in law and order problem, since many would start drinking at retail vends, on roads and in cars. The move also means a definite loss of revenue for the Delhi government as well. We have also made our representation to the government and they have promised to look into the matter.”
Multiple departments or agencies regulate restaurants in Delhi. To operate in the restaurant industry in India, one needs to obtain over 12 to 15 licences and NOCs (No Objection Certificates) from multiple authorities at the level of the state and Central governments. In Delhi alone, nine pre-approvals are required to apply for excise licences for restaurants that want to serve liquor and, in all, a minimum 23 licences or clearances are required to start operating a restaurant here. “The process is also not centralised and requires filing applications with the individual stakeholders, involving a lot of paperwork. Thus, it is a long and cumbersome activity. The laws are also very archaic and open to interpretation by the authorities,” Prakul said.
Following a massive protest held by the Swaraj Abhiyaan’s Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan in the past few months against the granting of mass liquor licences by the Aam Aadmi Party’s Delhi government, the latter recently announced a change in its excise policy of 2016-2017 and accordingly, the Excise Department has been asked not to issue any new licences till further orders.
Anupam, Swaraj Abhiyaan spokesperson, told The Sunday Guardian, “Our campaign was against the opening of liquor shops in residential areas without the consent of locals. It was the Aam Aadmi Party’s election promise, but they failed to implement it. On the contrary, they had granted 399 liquor licences in 371 working days to various vendors, shops as well as restaurants. We were campaigning only against liquor shops in residential areas, but the Delhi government decided to stop issuing liquor licences to all, for which the government is answerable.”
The National Restaurant Association of India also worries that the sudden stopping of licences would hurt tourism prospects in Delhi. “The restaurant industry is integral to the promotion of tourism. Stoppage of excise licences to restaurants will negatively impact the tourism industry. It will also impact the image of Delhi as a major hub of tourist traffic in the country,” Prakul added. Repeated calls to the AAP government’s Excise Department did not yield any response, while Nagendra Sharma, spokesperson of the AAP government, said that he is “unaware of any such development and if such a thing has happened, it must have happened for a reason”.