Restaurants, cafes and bars across Maharashtra will open their doors to customers from the first week of October after Uddhav Thackeray government on Monday allowed indoor dining with safety restrictions, including reopening with 50 per cent occupancy.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced this during a meeting with hoteliers on Monday.
When contacted, state Tourism Secretary Valsa Nair-Singh said: “The chief minister has allowed restaurants, bars and cafes to reopen from the first week of October. These establishments have been asked to get ready and undertake refurbishments to reopen.”
“The hoteliers have agreed to function as per the standard operating procedure (SOP) that will be finalised within a day or two,” she added.
In a press statement issued later in the day, Uddhav said that the government was taking utmost care and reopening the economy with responsibility. “The SOPs formulated are not meant to inconvenience hoteliers, but to guard the safety of the patrons and the hotel staff. The state does not enjoy imposing restrictions on trade and commerce. But there is still no vaccine or cure to Covid-19. Steps should be taken with utmost care,” he added.
Grappling with severe losses due to the lockdown and steep financial declines, the hospitality industry has been lobbying aggressively for the reopening of indoor dining at restaurants, cafes and bars. These establishments have been shut since March 24 when the country first went into lockdown.
Under its ‘Mission Begin Again’ guidelines, Maharashtra – worst affected by the Covid-19 pandemic – had first permitted hotels, lodges and homestays to reopen with 33 per cent occupancy, which was revised to 100 per cent in August. But a flare up in the new cases since had delayed the further reopening of the sector. Shut for six months now, restaurants have been surviving on home deliveries and takeaways. There are about 4 lakh eateries, restaurants, cafes and bars in the state. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region alone accounts for about 90,000 of these, officials said.
Further, the state has also decided to roll out a stimulus package to help the reeling industry, officials added.
Uddhav on Monday discussed the reopening and the revival package with representatives of National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI), Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association (AHAR), Hotel and Restaurant Association of Western India (HRAWI) and Maharashtra Rashtrawadi Hotel Kamgaar Union (MRKKU), among others.
He had on Sunday discussed the issue with NCP president Sharad Pawar and state Congress president Balasaheb Thorat.
AHAR president Shivanand Shetty said, “The government has agreed to recall the 15 per cent fee hike it had imposed in excise license fee for 2020-21 while agreeing to allow these payments on installment basis.”
Anurag Katiyar, president of NRAI, said that the state has also indicated that it is willing to charge license fees on a pro-rata basis this year. In other words, it is considering a waiver of the fee applicable for the months when these establishments were shut.
Hoteliers have also demanded concessions in applicable property taxes, other civic license fee and electricity duty, which are being evaluated, said sources. The government, however, has shot down a demand for “extension of the tenure of existing excise licenses till the year end”, sources added.
While permitting service of alcohol on the tables, sources said the CM was not in favour of NRAI’s demand to promote dining in open areas and roof-top terraces abutting a restaurant.
All hotel associations, meanwhile, have sought “non-imposition of functioning time restrictions”, contending that these would hurt the establishments economically and also lead to crowding. “Mumbai had earlier announced the 24×7 dine out policy. Asking bars to shut down at 9 pm won’t work. Shorter working hours will also lead to crowding,” said Katiyar.
Echoing this, Piyush Rathi, who owns a chain of hotel in Vidarbha, demanded the formulation of a “uniform rule” for operational timings across the state. “Some local bodies are enforcing shutdowns from 5 pm and 7 pm at the moment. The functioning times should be the same across the state,” he said.
Uddhav has sought feedback from the associations on the draft SOPs formulated by the state, while directing Nair-Singh to finalise these within two to three days.
Welcoming the state’s clearance to reopen, hotel associations have agreed to adhere to safety guidelines. “This is a great piece of news. We are making a beginning with alcohol services also being allowed,” said Katiyar.
Kalathur Vishwanath Shetty, president of MRKKU, said the state’s move will save jobs of thousands who are employed with the hospitality sector.
In Maharashtra, the sector directly employs about 60 lakh people, while about two crore people in all are benefitted by it. Shetty claimed that the sector had lost about Rs 18,000 crore during the lockdown period. It has also approached the Centre for liquidity support among other perks.
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