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Sleepless city: Eateries see profit, retailers skeptical


Professionals Working In Shifts For Bill Allowing Shops To Remain Open 24×7

Chennai was once known as a city where night owls were in a minority, while larks were up and trilling much before dawn. The sound of the night is all set to get louder with the Centre approving a bill that encourages round-the-clock business hours in malls and cinemas on Wednesday.

The Model Shops and Establishment (Regulation of Employment and Condition of Services) Bill 2016 has got a thumbs up from the public and owners of eateries, but retailers are still skeptical.

Priya Mathew, an advertising executive, said the model law would make life easier for those working late. “On most days, most diners and shops are closed when we step out of office,” said the 33-year-old, adding that availability of food 24×7, in particular, would be a boon.

The model law, which allows shops, malls and cinema halls, among other establishments, to remain open throughout the year has now been sent to all the states and Union territories to modify it according to their requirements.

While authorities at the malls are unsure about the technicalities of the law, they feel ex-tending the closing time could help generate more revenue. “Keeping eateries open through the night may not be feasible in malls, but the demand for them is high till 2am,” said M Balasubramaniam, director of Mangal Tirth Estate Limited, which manages Spencer Plaza. While there are apprehensions about the additional costs incurred for keeping the eateries running, Balasubramaniam said this could be overcome by having a dedicated area for the shops that don’t down shutters. “This way, the mall’s resources can be utilised just in that select area,” he said.

However, the move is not as simple. It comes with its own set of difficulties for authorities and a section of establishment owners. While it is good for select sectors such as restaurants, the response of retailers is muted. “The retail sector won’t lap this up unless they see a significant demand,” said Aroon Kumar, chief financial officer of Express Avenue mall. He said a viable option would be to allot specific days in a week where a group of retailers can operate till late. “Otherwise, keeping it open throughout the day through the year is not feasible. Even malls in developed countries like Singapore are not open at night,” he said.

Most theatres and cineplexes TOI spoke to said running shows through the night was out of the question. “There is no demand for 24-hour malls `or movie halls in Chennai,” said TN Theatre Owners Association president Abirami Ramanathan.

He said most of their 9am shows are scantly filled. “Extending the hours will strain the projection equipment and manpower. The cost of manpower at night will also be higher and unaffordable for most theatres.

Policemen are divided about -, the impact of shops and malls remaining open through the night on the law and order situation in the city.

Now shops in Chennai close by 11 pm, including those in big malls. Many smaller shops down shutters even earlier and roads are deserted save patrolling or traffic police personnel after midnight.

A few police officers say this rule may make it difficult for them to catch offenders, especially burglars. “Now, any suspicious person lurk-ing in a neighbourhood is easy to spot by police patrols. If the rule is implemented, roads will be crowded and it would be easy for burglars and robbers to mingle with the crowd,” said a police inspector.

However, a senior IPS officer in MORE STRESS? Police will have to increase its presence if the new rule is implemented the city disagreed, pointing out that more people may ensure safety of a neighbourhood. “If shops are open throughout the night, they would be frequented by people working late night and early morning shifts. This will resemble a day-time situation and may discourage criminals,” the officer said. He dis-missed the theory about deserted roads helping in tracking criminals. “Going by statistics, house break-in offenders are rarely caught at night. It is not a valid theory,” he said.

However, everyone seems to agree that round-the-clock open establishments would mean greater stress on the police force that al-ready faces a staff crunch. Sources said there are more than 20,000 vacancies in the state police and the inspectors, sub-inspector and con-stables are stretched. “Their work-life balance is already poor. The ‘government should consider em-ploying the personnel in shifts,” the IPS officer said.

Source: TOI