Curtains at 1 am, with caution

Last week, the City police extended the relaxed weekend deadline of 1 am for pubs and bars by another year. Having green-signalled the relaxation, t
Last Updated 21 June 2014, 19:54 IST

It was well past midnight. Elsewhere, as most Bangaloreans dipped into deep sleep, the city’s core stood wide awake. Lost in weekend chatter, hundreds lingered on the streets, in restaurants serving hot midnight snacks, in pubs where liquor flowed. For they all knew, the 1 am weekend deadline had just been extended by another full year.

In the Church Street–Brigade Road hangout zone, that epicentre of the city’s fledgling nightlife, the crowds thronged. A week had gone by since the extension order went public. A hundred days had passed since the State government dramatically lifted its strictly imposed nightlife ban.

Fridays and Saturdays were suddenly hip and happening. They screamed in unison. But doubts lingered, even among those youngsters. Some feared a spike in drunken driving, a rise in crimes, and as a lone voice stressed in telling style, a spurt in spending and wastage.

Yet, the city police commissioner Raghavendra Auradkar knew the year-long extension had to be done. For, the three-month trial run had passed largely without trouble. “There have been no major law and order issues, barring two or three drunken brawls and a few cases of haphazard parking,” he explains. The fights that were reported were mainly among friends or localised groups. Such incidents had no direct link with extended nightlife.

Drunken driving

But there has been a clear downside in the traffic area: A 20 to 25 per cent rise in cases of drunken driving on Fridays and Saturdays. Auradkar admits this is the case, attributing the rising detection of cases to a special drive by the night patrol policemen. The drive is expected to continue with more vigour, although this would mean more burden on the already stretched traffic police.

Traffic police officials contend that the existing arrangement of posting only the skeletal staff on night patrol will have to change if the weekend deadline relaxation is extended to week days. They prefer that the closure time of 11.30 pm for licensed bars and pubs from Sunday to Thursday should remain that way. Any other option would mean applying undue pressure on a traffic police force that is short of over 750 men.

Regulating the haphazard parking had to be the restaurant and pub owners’ job, insists the commissioner. “We have asked the owners of these outlets to post additional men to streamline parking. This has had an effect.”

More Hoysalas

Enhanced from 120 to 180 post-extension the augmented fleet of  Hoysala police control vans helped the police monitor the law and order issues better. So did the reinforcement of personnel with 900 homeguards, although 2,000 were promised. However, Auradkar had no plans to extend the deadlines on weekdays. For, the pub owners themselves were not sure of customers.

The city police are also expected to acquire more breathalysers to combat drunken driving. Manpower shortage, the bane of the police, is also likely to be addressed soon since the top brass has reportedly been informed of the challenges faced by Bangalore in comparison with other metro cities. For instance, even after the recent acquisition of more vans, the number of patrol vehicles are nowhere near that of Delhi, with about 1,000 and Mumbai with over 700.

The 180 patrol vehicles are currently distributed among the North, South, Central, West, East and South-east divisions for deployment in police stations. There are more vehicles in areas with higher density of pubs and restaurants. Yet, not everyone is convinced these would be sufficient. Pranesh, a sales team lead in a private company, is sure that crime rate will slowly rise over the next one year since the police force would be stretched.

Welcome move

However, tour operator Tushar had sensed the positive impact of the weekend extensions. He had often heard his clients, mainly tourists complain of the city’s glaring lack of even a functional nightlife. Says he: “A lot of tourists wanted to stay out late, of course with social responsibility. By the time they got into the mood, it was time for pack up. This has definitely changed for the better.”

But, as Tushar emphasises, a lot more has to be done to make the extension really matter to people. “Public transport has to ply in bigger numbers during the extended period. BMTC and even the Metro services should be available for people coming out of the pubs. This could control drunken driving to an extent,” he contends.

Autorickshaws could be an option. But besides the exorbitant rates they demand for night-time travel, a few drivers themselves are on a high. This was clearly in sight as Deccan Herald did a reality check in the Brigade Road area.

A CBD phenomenon

Such travel hassles might not be the norm if the nightlife had a radius beyond the Central Business District. Auradkar himself maintains that not much activity happens beyond the CBD. For Abdul Aziz and Hassan Abdul Sattar, both students from the Middle East doing a course in a private institute in Kammanahalli, the distance and the deadlines matter a lot.

Explains Sattar, “We want the business establishments, even shopping outlets to be open round-the-clock. By the time we finish our special classes and reach here, the shops are shut. So are the restaurants. It takes one hour to reach here from Kammanahalli.”

Tushar draws attention to another problem. Though the State excise department had issued orders on June 12, permitting licensed bars and pubs to open till 1 am on weekends for another year, there are outlets that close early. Auradkar explains that many restaurants - food outlets that don’t serve liquor can remain open till 1 am even on weekdays - are not ready to bear the extra labour costs that comes with extended working hours.

Besides, many want to cut down on electricity bills and other costs.

A few more months, and the scene could change for the better. Completion of the Namma Metro phase-I could trigger better connectivity and extension of services beyond 10 pm. Deploying their men, machines and vehicles in tandem, the city police too are hopeful. But it is a cautious optimism.

(Published 21 June 2014, 19:54 IST)

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