On meeting someone for the first time, actor Shruthi Seth likes to tell them that she grew up in Bombay. Not Mumbai. The Bombay of sleepless, safe and happening nights. Not the Mumbai of curfews, hockey sticks and the moral policing brigade. “Bombay was considered the safest city in the country,” says Seth. “There were people out on the streets all night and we used to party without a care in the world. It was a cosmopolitan city, nothing short of a “world city” then.” However, not long ago was a phase when partygoers and late diners of ‘Mumbai’ made sure they got back home before 1.30 a.m. They stood in long queues and bribed government officials for obtaining drinking permits and slowly Mumbai’s nightlife went into a long slumber.
A proposal that reached the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation recently might be a step towards waking the city up. Mooted by independent corporator Makrand Narvekar, the proposal called for an amendment in the Shops and Establishment Act to allow restaurants in the city to remain open 24X7. Narvekar, in his proposal, said he believes this move will boost the city’s nightlife and tourism.
The idea found immediate support from Shiv Sena’s young scion Aditya Thackeray, who took to Facebook to express the same. “I strongly believe Mumbai needs a safe yet vibrant night life,” the 22-year-old president of the Sena’s youth wing Yuva Sena had posted. “Our city virtually sleeps long after midnight. People look for places to chill post work. It will be a great roll in for the economy if we increase places to eat post work and curb corruption from places that are illegally open at night. This would be a major boost to our city’s nightlife.”
Many younsters expressed their support for Aditya’s initiative on social media and Mumbai’s nightlife became a trending topic once again, this time virtually. Following this, Aditya met the mayor Sunil Prabhu and has also managed to get his proposal cleared by the city’s municipal corporation headed by his father Uddhav Thackeray. He, along with Prabhu, now plans to approach Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan to push for its implementation, which he says is capable of
solving the double problems of unemployment and increasing crimes in the city.
However, the people of Mumbai seem divided on this note. While most of them young and old alike are all for 24X7 eateries, their main concern in safety. Considering that the recent gang-rape of a young photojournalist in the city happened as early as six in the evening, Mumbaikars are not sure whether there is enough infrastructure in place to police the entire city in case this proposal is accepted. Sidhant Shah, an architect who works late into the night, feels that this proposal is a double-edged sword. “While it is always good to generate more employment, it is to be understood that there needs to be a certain framework in place that is capable of supporting such an influx,” he says. “Security is a major issue, too. How many of us would dare to go out with women alone at night? In the absense of efficient security measures, this proposal can have the reverse effect.”
Mumbai-based fashion stylist Sakshi Mehra, however, disagrees. She feels that such a move would only give a clearer picture for law enforcers and help in better policing. “It is always harder to control something you are not prepared for,” says Mehra. “Shutting these restaurants and pubs early does not ensure that people get back home early. But once this proposal is accepted and eateries are open all through the night, cops and security personnel can concentrate in areas where most people are out drinking.” After all, ensuring the citiizen’s safety is the government’s and the police force’s job, not Aditya Thackeray’s, says Chhaya Momaya, image consultant and a party circuit regular. She suggests that the cops should become more tech savvy and resort to surveillance cameras and other such equipment to pep up the security system. “Once such restrictions are taken out, then people will be more responsible,” says Momaya. “For instance, in a city like Amsterdam where consumption of marijuana is legal, I was amazed to hear that most of the locals do not even touch it. This is just to say that the more you restrict people, the more they are likely to rebel and try to break free. This tendency could manifest itself as an increased number of crimes.”
According to a report by Maharashtra’s Criminal Investigation Department released in August this year, the crime rates in Mumbai have increased dramatically. Robberies have risen by a whopping 142.2%, culpable homicide by 125% and sexual harrasment by 45.1% in Mumbai over the previous year. Cases of rape and child rape in the state rose by 8% and 12%. Chavan and senior officers had attributed this increase to the increase in population and the increase in reporting of cases.
Their defence was that conviction rates have also been increasing from 8.2% in 2010 to 15.1% in early 2013.
The Maharasthra Pradesh Youth Congress leads the camp of those who don’t seem too impressed with Aditya’s proposal. Considering that the Shiv Sena was at the forefront for most of the moral policing activities the city has witnessed, this sudden change of strategy is nothing but a tactic to divert the attention from other grave issues like the recent building collapse at Dockyard Road, feels Ganesh Yadav. “This will only result in law and order problems and pose a huge nuisance to residents,” Yadav pointes out. The MPYC plans to submit a memorandum to the chief minister opposing Aditya’s proposal.
A few years ago, the residents of the city’s western suburbs had formed a group called Citizens for Fee Mumbai that supported the police’s actions on shutting down nightlife. They complained about the noise levels from these restaurants and the public nuisance created by their drunk patrons which had made life difficult for the residents. Restaurateurs in these areas agree that all-night operations in residential areas would be a tricky thing to attempt. “The idea is great,” says Mihir Desai, co-owner of Bandra’s The Big Bang Bar and Cafe. “But special areas should be demarcated where these 24 hour hubs can operate causing the least disturbance to citizens.” He suggests that commercial areas like Fort, Bandra Kurla Complex and Nariman Point would be good choices as a start. Agrees Mitesh Rangras of Aoi, a Japanese eatery in the suburbs: “This is a very lucrative proposition and will surely lead to a win-win situation for all those involved if carried out in commercial zones and malls.”
While some like Momaya feel that people will act more responsibly once restrictions are done away with, others like Atul Sahni, a resident of Bandra, feels that the people of India have a history of abusing the priviledges given to them. Sahni, who has been running Khane Khas, a take-away outlet in the suburb for the last 24 years, says that even “policing” comes with its own set of evils. “If there is stringent enforcement of safety norms and zero tolerance to any infringements, then this is a great move,” he says. “But from my past experience, I have seen that the same politicians step in to protect the rogues when such incidents arise. In such a situation, implementing this proposal sounds almost Utopian.”
Ruveena D’Souza, a resident of Malad, agrees. “Even if this is imposed, the followers of the same politicians are the ones who go on moral policing rampages claiming that the nightlife has spoilt the city’s “culture”,”she says. “Before bringing such an amendment in place, it should be made sure that such “culture fanatics” are kept on a leash.”
Any loosening of the laws pertaining to Mumbai’s nightlife is a good sign in its journey to becoming like one of the international cities, says musician and composer Michael McClearly, who hails from New Zealand and has been living in the city from 2007. “But as compared to say London and New York, I used to love Mumbai’s nightlife as it was a cool and unique city to go out in,” says McClearly, who says that he was “pleasantly surprised” that this proposal came from Aditya Thackeray. “I particularly miss the Zenzi [Bar in Bandra] days about 5 or 6 years ago, where you walked into a Mumbai bar and knew half the people there because the social scene was smaller and more close-knit then.” All said and done, McClearly, too, like most others, feel that although the changes are ultimately for the good, in a society that is so diverse in it’s views, law enforcers should be prepared to face the troubles along the way.
With the Supreme Court lifting the ban on dance bars recently and Aditya’s Mumbai 24X7 proposal, looks like the city is on its way to join its western counterparts and nearing its “Shanghai” dream. But will Mumbai will go back to being the Bombay that Seth grew up in? Only time can tell.