Society and Culture

‘Incredible India’ hollowed out by court-ordered alcohol ban, just when India’s dining scene was turning world class

A five star hotel was fully booked to host the top performers of a leading bank from across the globe. Their hosts’ plan was to showcase India as a premium luxury travel destination that boasted world class premises. A part of their stay involved a gala dinner where these executives could sample the finest selection of wines and enjoy a tour to a bustling food hub nearby.

Apr 6, 2017
The Supreme Court order banning alcohol within 500 metres of state and national highways made all preparations go awry. The Indian hosts are wondering how to tell their foreign guests at the last moment that they have been ‘banned’ from serving alcohol. The hotel manager explains the word ban freaks out a lot of travellers and causes irreparable damage to an establishment’s reputation.
The order’s intention is to curb drunk driving endangering lives on roads. The 500 metres distance is said to act as a deterrent to those driving while drunk or buying a drink on the go. While no one doubts the earnest intentions of the apex court and every citizen welcomes safer roads, the approach could have been different.
National Crime Records Bureau data of 2015 on road accidents shows that out of a total 4,64,674 road accidents that year, 7,061 or 1.5% were due to driving under influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol. Dangerous or careless driving, overtaking etc was the reason for 31.4% of road accidents whereas speeding caused 43.7% accidents. This suggests that strict enforcement of existing traffic and road safety rules will curb accidents far better than closing down bars and restaurants.
One saw a definite shift in attitude of people towards drunk driving when traffic police instituted strict checks and heavy fines. Aggressive media campaigns also increased awareness among drinkers to not endanger their own life and that of others by taking the wheel.
Secondly, the judgment clubs liquor vends with bars and restaurants within and outside the hotel. A restaurant is a highly regulated space set up after going through various inspections and licensing. It is one legally permitted place where one can enjoy a drink responsibly with friends and family. Each of these spaces was established after a hefty licence fee and paid heavy taxes on every pint or peg sold.
It is important to understand that most of the places paid a premium to set up shop in areas designated for hotels or food outlets by city planners. When many of these places came up, the roads may not have been national or state highways and may have just been city roads. As cities grew, many roads developed into arterial highways.
A consideration in buying residential property nowadays is recreation options nearby. To suddenly be told that the bar across our residential society cannot serve liquor as the road has become a highway amounts to forcing a resident to drive further for his drink.
The third and most important point: everyone going to a bar is not a drunkard looking to get sloshed and drive over people. To paint places serving alcohol as dens of debauchery and consumers visiting them as ones desperate to binge on booze is a mindset that needs to change.
Bars, restaurants and hotels are a reflection of our evolution. They are signs of a booming economy and a cosmopolitan society. Any popular tourist destination boasts of a vibrant food and nightlife and strong law enforcement that gives a sense to security. India had a happening food scene, what was merely needed was to provide stronger security that implemented rules strictly.
To suddenly order that our favourite places to unwind after a taxing working schedule are no longer permitted to serve us our hard earned drink is depriving us of simple joys of life. A vend will still pick up its makeshift structure and hop 500 metres away from its present location to sell liquor.
But a bar that came up after huge investment and employed security guards, trained waiters and talented bartenders will simply have to shut shop, rendering them jobless and consumers without a safe drinking spot.
For me it is taking away the essence of my ‘Incredible India’ where i can enjoy the finest of food and alcohol in my city. An India where i have the freedom to party but also awareness of my responsibility and rules.
Source: Times of India, April 06, 2017

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