It’s ironic, one can marry at 18 but not drink- Riyaaz Amlani rallies for India's nightlife
As the current President of National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI), well known restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani is on a mission to bring India’s nightlife industry together. At the recently held India Nightlife Convention and Awards (INCA) in Mumbai, the first of its kind as far as India is concerned; Amlani spoke about the challenges that beset the nightlife industry in India and the need to reframe regulations to promote the sector.
What are the challenges that the Indian Nightlife industry is facing currently?
We have a tremendous amount of challenges but at the same time there is fierce determination to survive and thrive. The challenges are not related to infrastructure but more about the political will as this industry is being pushed into an unregulated zone. Moreover, we are carrying a lot of cultural baggage in India. We forget that there is difference between culture and heritage. Culture is what we do today; it’s not what we did in the past, which is our heritage. There is need to promote the culture of today and the nightlife industry promotes today’s culture. The biggest irony is that you can marry at 18 but not drink. Currently more than 67% of the business is unauthorised and it is a huge loss as far as the tax revenue is concerned. Even the licensing process is extremely difficult in India which is ultimately favouring the black market. Just sample this-we need 32 NOC’s to sell a sandwich.
What kind of reforms are needed to promote the nightlife industry?
Let me state some facts. There is an estimated loss of Rs 30,000 crore in taxes, which is a big number; simply because the nightlife industry is largely unregulated. Some people prefer to operate in the unorganised space because the tax is too high--18%. So, if the tax is rationalised, definitely the collections will triple because everybody would like to proudly pay the taxes. This will also usher greater transparency in the industry. However, if you create conditions where it is impossible for them to pay such huge taxes then they will keep operating in the black-market. Also, it is important to undertake new regulations to make the licensing process simpler to promote the industry.
Which cities in India are working actively to promote the nightlife industry?
I think Maharashtra more than any other city since it has not just the intention but also the ability to execute. There is a lot of intent on the part of the Delhi government too but because of the political scenario they are not being able to implement anything. We are very hopeful that Maharashtra can become a model state for us and the success of this model in Maharashtra can then be empirically provided to other states and may be they will follow suit. The big question is why Mumbai is seeing only 4.5 million visitors annually while Dubai mall alone has 100 million visitors? I believe the quality of the nightlife does make a difference. Our problem in India is that we think of it as an elitist thing, we think of it as promoting vices and we don’t see the benefit it has for the economy, to the employment and the visibility of the city in the way how people perceive it.
What is your vision for NRAI?
I believe the conversations in the public arena are very important and through platforms like India Nightlife Convention and Awards (INCA), we are hoping that there will be continuous conversations in the public domain which will then force the government to take action. Moreover, getting people to understand and getting people to know who is batting for them is also important. Also, quite often the policies in our industry are politically motivated and vote bank related and seldom connected with the real economic impact or the financial impact. I’m sure it is going to change and our vision is to ensure that it happens.
What kind of changes do you foresee for the Indian nightlife industry in the coming time?
Since we represent almost all the big chains and most of the prominent restaurants, we are currently in the process of getting the smaller business owners actively involved with NRAI. We have tripled our membership base in the last two years since I have taken over, and hopefully we will get to a critical mass where we are not ignored. We will continue to promote conversations in the public space. We will continue impressing upon the government until we are heard. I think the progress will be incremental and it is about convincing one person at a time before we are able to reach out to all the powers that have the ability to influence. I think once vote bank politics is taken out of this, the demographics are totally on our side and the onus is on to leverage this fact.
Around The World