The Maharashtra government has cleared the decks for rooftop restaurants in Mumbai’s star hotels to serve liquor. The move comes nine months after a major fire engulfed two open-air restaurants — 1 Above and Mojo’s Bistro — killing 14 people.
According to a notification brought out by the state’s excise department, such restaurants can now obtain a valid licence to operate bars on their rooftops. There was no provision in the excise rules previously to allow such a facility. But the government’s notification has clarified that poolside areas and banqueting facilities cannot be a part of the composite licence.
Valsa Nair-Singh, Principal Secretary (Excise), when contacted, said, “This is a major ‘ease of doing business’ reform. It will streamline the process of maintaining and the inspection of records to a great deal. We have allowed rooftop area in a star hotel to be included as part of the composite liquor licence.”
In order to obtain a foreign liquor permit, bars are required to earmark an independent and dedicated storage area for alcohol. Mumbai’s erstwhile development control regulations, which were in force till September 1 this year, also did not permit rooftop restaurants, which automatically disqualified them from applying for a liquor licence.
In September last year, an excise department probe had found that almost all open-air restaurants and eateries had been misusing ‘one-day’ permits, which are temporary licences meant for serving alcohol in private parties, to operate bars without valid licences. A similar nexus was noticed in Pune as well.
The action which followed saw the authorities shut down 43 rooftop bars operating illegally, including those operating from star-category hotels, both in Mumbai and Pune.
Later, on December 29 last year, a major fire engulfed two such open-air restaurants – 1 Above and Mojo’s Bistro – killing 14 people. Investigations revealed that hookah and alcohol were being served illegally in these eateries despite the crackdown.
But the department’s new notification, which is applicable across the state, has now made certain modifications to the excise rules to allow rooftops to function commercially as bars as well. But the new rules do not give the restaurateur a carte blanche. For now, the government has allowed this option only for rooftop facilities functioning out of star-category hotels. Secondly, it has also imposed a rider that the facility will need to first procure a valid eating house and fire safety permission from the civic authorities, before applying for the bar permit.
The state government has basically waived off the requirement for a separate stocking area for the rooftop facility. Introducing the concept of one composite licence for all the bars functioning out of a star-category hotel, it has said that there can be a single alcohol stocking area for all of them. “The area identified as the main restaurant should have the stocking facility, while the rooftop facility will serve as the service area for the main restaurant,” said an official.
On the condition that no open-flames are to be used for cooking and the rooftop area should not be covered with sheds, the Mumbai municipality, which has now recognised rooftop eateries in the city’s new development control regulation, has already issued “eating house” permissions for rooftops on the terraces of some of the star hotels.
In April this year, a delegation of office-bearers of the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) had met Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Excise Minister Chandrasekhar Bawankule where the demand for licensing rooftop bars was raised. Following this meeting, Fadnavis had asked senior excise department officials to consider the feasibility of formulating a permit policy for rooftop bars. The government has invoked the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ reform to allow a composite foreign liquor licence for all bars inside star hotels, including rooftops.