In whatever way I try to visualise Bangalore in the distant future, at least as far as its social and cultural structures are concerned, I don’t see much of a change. With the political changes happening across the country, the government is going to take a step motherly attitude towards the needs of urban India anyway. And nightlife is least important in their scheme of things.
Therefore, we cannot expect much support from the government. And as far as the police are concerned, they have always toed the line, quoting “we are only implementing the law, if the law changes we will follow the new law”. So the ball is back in the government’s court.
Bad for business?
The most obvious question we get asked is if the F&B industry is suffering because of the 11.30pm deadline issue. I’d say yes and no. The party people of Bangalore have learnt to live with it; the industry however does take a beating due to the fact that the window it gets to conduct business is very small.
Due to work pressure, timings, distances to commute and importantly bad infrastructure the time take to reach any distance has gone up by close to 50% sometimes even more. For instance, going to Koramangala from Indiranagar used to take about 20 minutes via the Inner Ring Road; today if you can reach within 45 minutes, consider yourself lucky.
What people need to realise is that this short window not only affects sales but also drives people to binge drink. This is definitely a hazard to the general well-being of a society.
Taxed and how
We could definitely do with a relook at the taxation on liquor. Excise duty collected on liquor has always been the easiest way out for any government to fill up their bankrupt coffers. However with the additional excise duty recently imposed varies from 25% to 40%. This is hardly noticed in the local bars as they sell mainly cheap liquor. On the other hand premium bars, pubs, restaurant etc, who sell top-of-the-line liquor suffer.
It’s not only additional excise duty that is playing a mighty role. Due to the depreciation of the Rupee, all imported liquor companies have raised their rates on top of this a additional excise duty – this is a lethal combination and it’s affects the consumer directly.
The margins have dipped as owners are scared to increase prices. For some premium products, the margin is only about 10% to 12% and apart from it being demoralising, I fear it might lead to mal practice. Sadly, the Bar & Restaurant lobby here is very weak; we owners just lie back and accept it unlike Maharashtra where, when the duty was increased, all affected parties downed their shutters for three days in protest.
Growth is good but license?
Many bars and restaurants have sprung up all over Bangalore thus distributing the business.
It’s not feasible anymore to go to Brigade Road for a drink one can get a decent place close to where one lives. But one must note that the total bar licenses have not increased. The Veerappa Moily government in 1992 stopped issuing liquor licenses. Where the government fails is a policy change. The license given is on a year to year basis, for those who default on paying the annual renewal fees or wish to sell it means only this that they do not require if for their livelihood. The government must repossess the same and auction it whereby increasing the revenue options for the government.
Having said that, the small local bar is now either selling or leasing his license to up-market players. This is also due to the fact that rural licenses have now become urban after the implementation of the greater Bangalore act and now there are many more licenses available.
What needs to happen therefore, owing to the above scenario, the government needs to relook at an excise rule 14 of the Karnataka Excise (Sale of Indian & Foreign Liquors) Rules, 1968. This rule states that CL 9 licensee will compulsorily sell 52 cases or 468 bulk litres of liquor (excluding fenny, wine and beer) it further states “ to ensure that no attempt is made to undersell the liquor and thereby wholesome liquor obtained only from authorized sources is sold to consumers”. One can go into a lengthy discussion on this subject as the present scenario permits bar owners to purchase their liquor from the government body called Karnataka State Beverage Corporation Limited. How on earth can a government body sell un-wholesome liquor? This makes the law redundant.
I realise that I don’t exactly sound like the one who brings the good news but small steps towards the improvement of Bangalore’s nightlife will go a long way, only if the governing bodies took a second look at the scene. Till then, it’s 11.30pm for all of us!
As told to Priyadarshini Nandy
President of the Association of Bars, Restaurants and Pubs, and a pub owner himself.