By Sayli Udas-Mankikar*
The Kamala Mills compound fire in Mumbai’s high-scale pub at Lower Parel has left the apathetic civic administration gasping for oxygen.
The horrifying fire which claimed 14 lives owing to negligence of the authorities has punctured the dream for Mumbai becoming the first Indian nightlife capital, forcing them to go back to the drawing board.
A government notification, issued on December 16, 2017, under the Maharashtra Shops and Establishment Act, 2017, allows shops, including restaurants (not pubs or bars for now), cinema halls, salons, hyper malls and businesses such as banks, medical establishments and tax consultancies, to remain open through the night.
Conservative estimates put together by the State officials show that the additional footfalls at malls, hotels, restaurants, pubs, will bring in an additional tax collection of at least 649 million dollars annually to the state exchequer. About three million foreign tourists and 40 million domestic tourists visit Mumbai annually, which is also said to increase if this move is successful. The State has initiated the process of getting authorities together to chart a plan for Mumbai, but this recent incident has put the rollout on hold.
The Kamala Mill compound deaths are systemic murders which should lead to some serious introspection and make the State government reconsider its nod for the nightlife zones to be set up in Mumbai soon. It has identified three pilot zones: Lower Parel (a former mill area), the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC, a reclaimed space) and Marine Drive (a sea-front commercial-residential zone) for kicking off this concept over weekends.
With a highly stressed civic administration, sparse police force (15% shortage) and inadequate fire stations and firefighters, any unplanned implementation of the decision seems like an open invitation to more Kamala Mill-like disasters. With the current strengths and capacities, it is doubtful if these authorities are competent to handle complex dynamics of urbanisation which will lead to more fires, issues of safety, security, accessibility, mobility and public nuisance.
Nightlife economy is an urban phenomenon which is an important part of city regeneration, both in terms of its economy and socio-cultural fabric. The most successful cities, which have been able to work around the challenges of managing the nightlife plans, have adopted a multi-agency, public, private and holistic strategies. London, Tokyo, Barcelona, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Sao Paolo and New York are a few examples.
There are a few key aspects to be considered while rolling out a plan such as the one being considered for Mumbai. Issues of dispersal, transportation linkages, integrated planning of night zones, licensing of establishments, cleaning up the area and surveillance are key to such a strategy. London which tops the list, generating 26,300 million dollars through the night economy alone, and employs one in every eight Londoners in this, has created a ‘Night Time Commission’ that looks after all these aspects.
Many cities, including London, Paris, Belgium and Amsterdam, have appointed a single-point authority, an ambassador, who heads the planning and is in-charge of the roll-out of such plans. London appointed a ‘Night Czar’ in 2016 whose task is to set out a roadmap of how this vision will be delivered and she will build on opportunities such as the Night Tube to diversify and grow London’s night time economy.
Two of the pilot zones identified in Mumbai for the night plan, Lower Parel (closed mill compounds) and BKC, which are largely non-residential, have issues of access and movement. Mumbai’s public transport, including its municipal bus services and suburban railways do not operate during the night. While the buses do not play for eight hours between 12.15 am and 4 pm, trains remain shut for three hours between 12.30 am to 3.30 am.
The London Safe Travel at Night Campaign introduced 16 new buses and the Docklands light railways has tied up with mini-cab services to ease transportation and ensure last mile connectivity for night travellers.
A large congregation of people will mean increase in noise decibels and littering. Garbage generation both inside and outside facilities like restaurants, malls, theatres and roads will double and will need to be managed with double the workforce.
A brilliant example in this case is the Copenhagen Nyhven and Dublin Culture Quarter, the harbour area, which was full of litter after a whole night of activity. The local residents have joined hands with business houses of the culture quarter for cleaning the area.
The administration will have to come up with stringent rules for noise management and avoiding public nuisance. For example, New York and Berlin do not allow permits to large clubs or bars (size described in laws) in residential areas.
Noise pollution in case of nightlife is not restricted to only transmissions – either live or recorded – from entertainment areas, but also from break out of crowds from premises to streets. In 2015, residents from the tony suburbs of Bandra and Khar protested on permissions given to pubs and bars mushrooming in their neighbourhoods, demanding for shifting these to non-residential zones.
The already-slim police force that receives 55,000 calls on its redressal system every day, will need to pump up its numbers, and device new systems for policing and licensing. New laws on licenses to be linked to deterring vandalism and rowdiness in these zones need to be in place.
Unique ways of sharing intelligence on the lines of those adopted by cities like Manchester will need to be set up. The Manchester City Center Safe project includes a unique Nitenet radio system that links up all pubs, discos, bars, and the CCTV to the police, which has live telecasts on any problems that may arise during the night. Similarly, the concept of night wardens has taken off in Leicester Square where people appointed by the police for monitoring any untoward incidents.
Introducing nightlife in Mumbai will certainly boost its economy, and also open up entertainment opportunities for people in this megacity who spend nearly half their life just commuting to work and back. Nightlife is not only about drinking or making merry. It is about exposure to culture and heritage, music and dance. Keeping museums open through the night, organising music and dance festivals, and having local community open houses could be ways to rejuvenate the city and the citizens alike.
But all this can be done when all stakeholders including police, local authorities, emergency agencies, business houses and the community are integrated into the night plan. Apart from a responsible citizenry, Mumbai will need a robust system for setting out a roadmap of how this vision will be delivered. Its successful implementation, on the other hand, will provide a robust template for other cities in India to emulate.
A 24X7 city will mean a 24X7 active and efficient administration. Are we ready for it?
*Sayli Udas-Mankikar is a Senior Research Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai