Rasheed Kappan, Aditya Bharadwaj,
Bangalore, Aug 11: Asked to shut shop and go home after 11.30 pm, the city’s pub owners and their young clientele want an extension of the strictly imposed deadline. But the short-staffed police, pushed to the wall by the rising crime graph, are not willing to play along.
Cosmopolitan Bangalore’s date with dusk dramatically halts at 11.30 pm sharp. Night after night. Pulled down by strict official orders, the curtains at liquor-vending outlets drop down in tandem as restaurants do business for a half hour more. But as the city police remain unwavering in their resolve to keep it this way, the city’s youth seek an extension, a night life that a city with a wannabe world city ambition rightly deserve. Is there a middle path?
There cannot be, declares the city’s police commissioner Raghavendra H. Auradkar, citing a staff shortage of big proportions. “Policing during night time is a complex issue. I just don’t have the required staff. There are 2,800 vacancies to be filled. In any case, it is a policy decision that the Excise, Home Department and the state government should take,” he explains.
The city’s transformed work culture might have turned the traditional character of “9 to 5 jobs” upside down. Catering to European and American time zones, the call centres might have redefined the very concept of working hours. Yet, the validiity of these arguments put forth by the nightlife brigade are not convincing enough for the law enforcers. Faced with the mounting challenge of drunken drivers, shaken by the reckless “wheelie” culture, the men in khaki aren’t going to agree in a hurry.
The old contention that criminals use outlets open well past the Cinderalla Hour to plan their nightly moves, remain strong as ever. “Crime has to be stopped at the beginning itself. It is the same broken window approach,” reasons Auradkar. A criminological theory, the broken window approach implies that urban environments should be maintained and monitored in a well-ordered condition to stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crimes.
But pub owners are not impressed with this argument. At a pub on Church Street in the city’s Central Business District — where the bulk of the reputed pubs and bars are located–, the managers point to their clientele. “Can you spot any criminal element among them. The vast majority of our customers are from the IT industry, all law-abiding citizens. They just come here to relax and spend some time,” notes a manager.
Yet, the Excise and police rules cannot be fashioned exclusively for pubs alone. Liquor-vending outlets would mean the roadside bars and wine stores too. That would be the tricky part for policing. The Excise Deparment’s CL-9 licence mandates that bars and restaurants should close by 11.30 pm, while the CL-2 licence has a 10 pm deadline for wine stores to stop selling liquor. Half-hour relaxations are allowed for non-liquor restaurants. There are no restrictions for coffee shops in five star hotels.
For the police, enforcing these strict rules is already a problem. Extension of the deadline, say the police topbrass, will only complicate matters. “The other night, for the Muslim Shebbe-ke-raath, I was on duty till midnight. My officers were there all night. There was no problem at all. But this (kind of policing) will spread out the resources of the police department thinly,” Auradkar contends.
The issue is definitely complex. Even without a deadline extension, pub owners say they have to contend with other rules attached to the 11.30 pm deadline that are practically unreasonable. “The police want us to clear the crowds by 11.30 pm even from outside our premises. Although we stop serving liquor at 10.45 pm and vacate the customers from inside by 11.30 pm, some people hang out outside. Six hundred people come here, from IAS officers to youngsters. It is tough,” says Derick Paul, manager of the Toit pub on Indiranagar 100ft road.
Paul is all for a deadline extension, at least during weekends. “The public come here for entertainment, they want to relax especially during weekends. We can’t be asking them to clear out so soon and lose our business,” he reasons. Relaxing the deadline on Fridays and Saturdays by an hour is a view shared by even some top police officials in private.
Pub-owners are also not convinced by the police argument that criminals will have a free run after midnight. “Once you shut down all these outlets, there will hardly be anyone on the streets. That is when the criminals find it easy to target the lonely pedestrians and motorists. Crime is relatively tougher to execute when there are crowds at night,” points out the manager of a bar and restaurant in the CBD.
Extended deadlines might require a larger police presence, as the commisisoner put it. But is such intense monitoring inevitable? Yes, reiterates a police inspector from a station within the CBD. Police deployments outside these joints are critical to maintain law and order. A policeman on the street, he explains, would act as a deterrant, diffusing minor altercations that are bound to happen when people consume alcohol.
There is no culture of compliance to rules in Bangalore, and so, police presence is fully justified, notes another inspector from the city’s East division. “The police should virtually stand with a baton and close down these pubs and bars after the deadline hour. Unless policed, many unscrupulous elements take over these places and indulge in certain activities that are to be curtailed like, high class protitution, drug abuse, gambling and betting,” he says on condition of anonymity. Such an environment, he adds, will also be an invitation to crimes against women.
The same youth who demand an extended nightlife and non-intervention by the police, says the inspector, will also protest over minor altercations. “They would hold everybody from the chief minister to the commissioner accountable for the incident and do all the hungama. You cannot have everything. Certain things need to be kept under check,” he contends.
The debate will continue. But the demands for an extension may not get vociferous as long as the relaxation allowed for a few restaurant chains to operate well past the Cinderalla Hour remains intact. Buzzing with the pub crowds after the 11.30 pm deadline, these eateries give the city’s once famed nightlife a semblance of relief!