While the Uddhav Thackeray government deserves praise for understanding the commercial and economic significance of the proposal, it would do well to remember there are many challenges too.
On January 22, the Maharashtra Cabinet approved the proposal to permit commercial establishments in select non-residential areas in Mumbai to remain open around-the-clock from January 27. The announcement was made by state home minister Anil Deshmukh and tourism minister Aaditya Thackeray, who is credited for pushing the proposal through.
This is a positive and long-overdue move, and one wonders why this was not done earlier! While there are concerns on how feasible it is, on the whole, it is a step in the right direction. Political opposition to it that has come up so far, mainly from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is a case of sour grapes.
Mumbai is said to be the India’s city that never sleeps, while in reality Mumbai and its businesses are forced to take a nap every night. At present, commercial establishments are mandatorily required to down their shutters for certain hours in a day. We often compare India’s financial capital to London or Shanghai or Hong Kong, but have rules that withhold it from realising its full potential.
It is foolhardy to expect that this one step will tap Mumbai’s full potential — that is a distant goal, and this move is a small step towards realising Mumbai’s full potential. For starters, it gets the basics right: more business hours will help establishments make better use of the commercial spaces they have, and this, in turn, will help revenue generation, and also contribute to GDP growth.
A 24X7 working cycle will ideally remove the dormant hours of a day when businesses remain idle — to meet the demands of this new cycle, new work patterns will emerge, new business possibilities and models will arise, and this will create a new ecosystem. It’s a win-win situation for businesses and consumers.
While the Uddhav Thackeray government deserves praise for understanding the commercial and economic significance of the proposal, it would do well to remember there are many challenges too. That this will come into effect in select few areas, such as Nariman Point, Bandra Kurla Complex, Marine Drive, etc., show that the state government is approaching this cautiously. As a second step to the proposal, beginning February, all-night food trucks will open in these areas.
However, merely keeping restaurants and malls open 24X7 will not help — there is a crucial backbone to it that the State has to develop to facilitate the night-time life of any city. The State has ensure safety and security, and for this it has to increase the strength of the law and order machinery in Mumbai. The story of the police forces across India is almost the same: understaffed and overworked. The ‘Status Of Policing In India Report 2019’, by Common Cause and the CSDS, shows that about 24 per cent of the police work more than 16 hours a day! Thus, for Mumbai 24X7 to be a success, increasing the strength of the Mumbai Police and decreasing their work hours is crucial.
Another key factor is the availability of public transport. True, that Mumbai’s famous local trains operate for almost 22 hours a day, but last mile connectivity is still needed. Unless public transport is made available round-the-clock, access to Mumbai 24X7 will remain an opportunity only a select few can avail. India’s work culture also needs to change.
This proposal also has political significance. That such a move should come from the Shiv Sena, which has been traditionally associated with opposing ineffable ghosts of ‘western culture’, will come as a surprise to many. It shows that once in power the Shiv Sena is remoulding itself. Credit should also be given to the young Thackeray who has been pushing for this since 2015.
The BJP has opposed this move citing safety of women. Raj K Purohit, former Mumbai BJP chief, was quoted saying, “If the culture of alcohol consumption get popular, there will be thousands of cases of crimes against women like the infamous Nirbhaya incident.” Ashish Shelar, a senior BJP leader, said, “…Women are unsafe in Mumbai. This is about the safety of women in the city.” He went on to say that the Shiv Sena government was encouraging “people to drink all night”.
Women’s safety must be a priority, but for the BJP to cite that for opposing the move smacks of political fear-mongering. Every citizen at any time of the day must be assured of her safety. Moreover, the timing for establishments selling liquor has not been extended beyond the current 1:30AM. Also, it is a bit rich of the BJP to raise an objection to the move when its government in Gujarat enacted a similar law on May 2, 2019.
Mumbai 24X7 will be seen as an experiment and other municipalities and governments will be watching closely to see if it is a success or failure.For more Opinion pieces, click here.
Exclusive offer: Use code "BUDGET2020" and get Moneycontrol Pro's Subscription for as little as Rs 333/- for the first year.