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Restaurant owners in a fix over new fire-safety norms



New Delhi: Restaurants and cafes with 50 seat covers and above in the city needed a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the fire department to obtain a retail licence for consumption at their premises. A recent order of the excise department though seeks compliance from even those that have less than 50 covers and states that restaurants having gross floor area of 90 square metres or more are required to submit an NOC from the fire department for grant of excise licence. This order review has been done following the killer blaze at Hotel Arpit Palace in Karol Bagh.

Chief fire officer Atul Garg said since the order by the excise department was passed, the fire department has been facilitating inspections at the restaurants that are applying for NOCs. “Under this, all restaurants that have an area of more than 90 sq m are required to have a water-tender and well guided fire escape route. The fire department is also in discussion with the respective municipal corporations to revoke permissions of restaurants found flouting the norms during fresh inspections,” said Garg.

The order has put most of the restaurants in the city in a fix. Rahul Singh, president, National Restaurant Association of India, and founder and CEO of Beer Café, said while the entire restaurant industry stands for following fire safety norms to the fullest, this order is a knee-jerk reaction. He said there are around 32,000 formal restaurants in the city that follow FSSAI norms and pay GST. Of these, he estimates 80% to be impacted by this order. Another 50,000 restaurants will also be impacted, he said.

Singh said the authorities should have focused on fixing the infrastructure and implementing building changes than putting the entire onus on restaurants. “This is a typical knee-jerk reaction. In certain retail markets, until building structures are not changed, there have to be common water tender and well guided fire escape routes for an entire market than individual restaurants,” he said.

A restaurateur running casual dining outlets explained that the 90 sq m rule takes into account the entire area, including toilets, kitchen, common area and stairs. That would translate into most of the restaurants coming under this rule and having to seek fire NOCs afresh to continue to be in business. “This is typical Delhi for you. It is like banning all cars on road as one car caught fire. If dealing with multiple authorities and licences was not enough, now we have one more issue to deal with. Providing common fire safety in return for all the taxes we pay at markets such as Khan Market and Hauz Khas should have been the responsibility of the government. They have put the onus on us to alter our structures and incur extra costs. This will simply shut down most of the outlets in the city,” he said on condition of anonymity.

At present, it is estimated that a huge majority of formal outlets are under 50 covers. This order practically puts all these outlets to seek fresh NOC from fire department. Also, other than the three corporations, there are areas such as New Delhi Municipal Council and Delhi Cantonment that have restaurants under them. Most restaurant owners feel authorities have simply passed their responsibility of upgrading infrastructure on restaurants.

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