“The catering industry is still seen as a rich man’s indulgence, not a necessity…looking at the loss of Rs 65,000 to 1,00,000 crore”

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With malls, hotels and restaurants across the country scrambling to ensure compliance with the Supreme Court’s ruling banning the serving of alcohol within 500 meters of state and national highways, Riyaaz AmlaniPresident of the National Restaurant Association of India, spoke with Amine Ali on the financial fallout of the decision, how restaurants are dealing with it and how it affects us all:

How do you plan to deal with the fallout from the Supreme Court’s ban on selling alcohol within 500 yards of state and state highways?

We contacted state governments and met with tourism ministers from Haryana, Maharashtra and Karnataka. We have also requested meetings with the chief ministers of these states. We will work with governments to find a way out. The restaurant body has never been called upon to present its views in court. The case was only about liquor stores and sales. When the decision bludgeoned us with vendors and stores, the restaurant industry was shocked and shattered. It was a dark day for our industry.

What losses are you considering?

We are looking at a revenue loss of Rs 65,000 to 1,00,000 crore over the year and this decision could impact one million jobs. Thousands of crores of investments are at risk. A liquor vendor will easily move 500 meters but it is almost impossible for a restaurant or hotel to move.

The decision was to make the highways safer when all you’re talking about is loss of business?

Data on road deaths released by the government office clearly indicate that driver negligence and causes such as speeding and overloading trucks kill more people than drunk driving. If the intention is to reduce traffic accidents and make highways safer, the Supreme Court should have required state governments to install speed guns and strictly enforce speeding. They should have insisted on improving the infrastructure and deploying an additional force to prevent overloaded trucks from driving dangerously. Simply closing restaurants will not make roads safer.

But the 500 meter distance is supposed to deter people from drinking on the highways. You do not agree ?

Create a social deterrent rather than closing restaurants. It should become a norm that driving drunk or without a seatbelt is completely unacceptable. A strong social movement and firm enforcement of the rules will act as a better deterrent than the 500 meter rule. A person who must drink can drink at home and start driving.

But the availability of alcohol on the highways gives you the opportunity to drink and drive. Your comments?

Many national highways are roads within the municipal limits of a city. They cover nearly 80% of traffic movements in the city. Cities have changed and evolved and so have our roads. These restaurants were set up in permitted areas after paying due taxes and acquiring all required licenses. We are among the safest consumer spaces.

But don’t you agree that the image of restaurants seems to have become that of spaces selling alcohol?

The restaurant industry is seen as an indulgence for the wealthy, not a necessity. Some still believe that good people from good families don’t go to restaurants. Rather than being seen as a necessity and an important part of a city’s social fabric and spaces that contribute positively to a city’s cultural image, we are simply seen as places that serve alcohol. We are among the most heavily taxed, licensed and regulated industries.

What are you doing to change this image?

We publish a foodservice report every year. We contribute 2.1% of the country’s GDP. We employ six million people. We generate revenue 1.6 times that of Indian Railways and twice that of the IT industry. We actively presented these facts to state and central governments. While governments are scrambling to favor other industries, our industry – which actively contributes to the image of the country – asks only to be easy to do business with peace of mind. We do not ask for any subsidy.



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