The BJP-ruled municipal corporations on Thursday termed the Delhi government's decision to abolish the need for health trade licence for restaurants a "ploy" to weaken the civic bodies and said they will seek a legal opinion to "counter" the move. North Delhi Mayor Jai Prakash said the local bodies have autonomy in civic matters and alleged that the AAP government was trying to "dry out" revenue sources of the corporations.
On Wednesday, the Delhi government announced measures to abolish the requirement of tourism, police and health trade licences by restaurants to operate, saying it intends to end the "permit raj" in this sector of the hospitality industry. And Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal asked officials to abolish the health trade licences issued by the civic bodies within 10 days. "Delhi government is trying to dry out our sources of revenue. We won't take this lying down. We have asked our law department to look into the DMC Act to see how we can counter this," Prakash said.
The senior BJP leader asked whether the Delhi government will take responsibility if any hygiene and health-related incidents happen at any restaurant in the capital. Not just the municipal corporations but the Delhi police too appeared unamused with the government's move. A senior police officer said licences issued by the department cover various aspects, including safety and security of the customers and the restaurant staff.
"There are so many safety and security issues. Tomorrow what if somebody violates the law, if there is any brawl or problem there? If any dangerous activities takes place there, if the location of a restaurant is not appropriate or if the person is not suitable to run the restaurant. "What if a criminal manages to run it? If certain laws are being violated, then who will take action against them?" said Joint Commissioner of Police (Licensing) Suvashis Choudhary.
The location of the restaurant is important considering parking issues. Both local as well as traffic police play an effective role in maintaining law and order, he said. But restaurant owners are happy.
"It is indeed a positive move by the Delhi government at a much-needed time. These reforms will help the hospitality industry grow, stabilise and sustain…We would be able to work in peace and focus on our business rather than being busy half the year acquiring or renewing different licenses," said Joy Singh, co-partner, Raasta & Yeti. Referring to the 10-day deadline set by Kejriwal to abolish the health trade licences, Singh said, "Promises were made earlier as well but this time it has a deadline attached to it."
Jatin Mallick, Chef & Co-owner, Tres, said, "The hospitality sector has been much neglected in the past and with such constructive decisions being made, there is hope for a brighter future. These reforms will definitely promote ease of doing the business." Choudhary, however, cited the central government's unified online portal to ease the licensing process, saying it is a "one-stop shop" for applying or renewing licences for restaurants and hotels.
He also said that they are trying to make the licensing process seamless, paperless and "as contactless as possible" for those keen on opening restaurants. Mallick said relaxation of GST rules and easier policies such as allowing food trucks and updating the alcohol policies would help the industry. "To fight the current dip it's very important to find ways to allure consumers, boost their confidence to maintain cash flow." The Delhi government has also said that restaurants will be allowed to operate round-the-clock and its excise department has agreed to review the existing policy of a 10 per cent automatic increase in the licence fee every year. "We welcome this news wholeheartedly…during these testing times," said Rohit Aggarwal, Director of Lite Bite Foods.
"With more time on our hands, we would be able to allocate greater resources and time to our business, thus helping the hospitality industry to attain its full potential which somewhat got crippled during these hard times."