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Ahataas, the most favoured party hubs in Gurugram



GURUGRAM: Owners of ahataas (open drinking places adjacent to liquor vends) in the city said there has been a rise in footfall over the last eight years after they started introducing live music, performances and an expansive food menu. At least six ahataa owners, whom Hindustan Times spoke to, said they had witnessed a growth of 40-50% in the number of customers over the last few years.

The owners said business has picked up as many people from Delhi and Noida prefer the casual vibe of ahataas, where one can enjoy an evening without feeling the pocket pinch. However, despite their expansion and growing popularity among partygoers, they seem to be doing little to curb the menace of public drinking in the city.

Ahaatas came up in the city in early 2005, after Gurugram gained an international image for its multinational lifestyle and growing migratory population. They started as small spaces with bamboo sheds, but have now turned into hip places with live music, special appearances by world-class bartenders and eye-popping interiors.

Baljeet Rathee, the director of 7 Degrees brewery on Golf Course Road, said that according to excise rules, authorised drinking places were to be known as ‘Anumat Kaksh’ in order to prevent rowdy and drunken behaviour in public, and that there can be a small room attached to a liquor vend where people can consume drinks.

Though these local drinking places were earlier only restricted to men, largely from middle-class backgrounds, they are now famous for hosting birthdays, anniversaries and even farewell celebrations of the city’s top executives. After the new excise policy of April 2016 barred pubs and bars from serving liquor at rooftop gardens, lawns and other open spaces, the popularity boomed.

Pub and bar owners are crying foul. They allege that the ahataas are not playing by the rules anymore.

“The licensee is required to have proper structure and furniture to maintain cleanliness and hygienic environment. This means they have to be operated by the licence holder and have to provide some basic infrastructure. But none of these ahaatas are operated by licence holders. They basically entrust a third party with the job and take a share of the revenue or profit,” Rathee said.

The pub/bar owners alleged that while these spaces rake in the moolah without complying with food safety norms and are also outside the tax net, they have pay a significant amount in taxes and also have to keep a check on the quality of food and service in general to remain in business.

“As per the FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) Act, any FBO ( food business operator ) across India involved in cooking and serving food in a commercial establishment for human consumption has to comply with the food safety standards and needs a valid licence to operate. Also, food service in any commercial form is subject to GST. Other provisions of waste management and exhaust discharge under the state pollution board, too, apply. Since legit restaurants comply with these rules and meet all provisions,they are safe and responsible places to have food,” Rahul Singh, president, National Restaurant Association of India, said.

The clause that the ahaatas follow is the one that says liquor shall not be sold or served in any manner in these places, which compels people go to nearby liquor vends and buy drinks. However, ahaatas do serve glassware, soda and water at extra charge.

Ashok Yadav, director, Dhaba 29, a restaurant in Sector 29, said these drinking places are operating as full-fledged restaurants and they have live DJ night and air-conditioned rooms. “The excise department has no say on them as they does not cover restaurants,” Yadav said.

Yadav added that these ahataas have listed themselves on online food ordering apps, which is an indication that they pitch themselves as full-fledged restaurants and pubs. “They are even giving out huge discounts and offers on such apps,” he said.

So, while an ahaata provides for a cheaper but entertaining venue for parties and after-work gatherings, has it failed to provide an alternative to people who prefer a quick drink outside vends?

“Going to an ahaata also means spending somewhere between Rs 1,500 and Rs 3,000 on drinks and food and drinking in the open hardly costs you between RS 500 to Rs 600. We only have to shell out RS 50 for chips or other snacks, apart from beer,” Rohit Khanna, an MNC executive, said, adding that he often drinks outside the vends after office on Golf Course Road.

The excise department, which is finding it difficult to crack down on open drinking, said they need to work in close coordination with the police. “Strict action against those who drink in public places will force them to visit ahaatas,” said Sneh Lata Yadav, deputy and excise taxation commissioner(East).

“The ahaatas were introduced to curb the menace of drinking in the open. However, they do not seem to have served this purpose, as people are still found drinking in cars and outside vends. We need to put our heads together and find a way to curb drinking in the open. Once open drinking is barred, people will have little option but to drink at home or visit ahaatas, pubs and bars,” Yadav said.

Yadav said the excise department can’t stop the ahaatas from serving food and hosting parties, as there is no clause in the policy that restricts them from hosting parties. She said there is little they can do till changes are introduced in the excise policy, which is set to come up for a review soon. She said the department can’t act against offenders for expanding their business till the rules authorise them to do so.

Ahaata owners said even their business is affected due to open drinking and they have complained to the authorities about the same.

“People prefer drinking in the open as they find it cheaper. They drink outside the vend, as snacks are cheap and they can also enjoy chilled beer in the open. Unlike ahaatas, pubs and bars, open drinking also allows them to avoid paying 5% GST on the bill. The loss is entirely ours,” Neeraj Ruhil, director, Social Chamber, South City-2, said.

Ahaata owners said the authorities blame them for people resorting to drinking more in the open.

“While our vends are open to anyone wanting to purchase liquor, we can’t tell them where to have it. Our job is to serve those who visit us, not to check who is drinking outside. The responsibility lies with the police,” Mehtab Sindhu, another ahaata owner, said.

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