Nagpur: Just a few months ago Nagpur connoisseurs were very excited about a micro brewery opening in the city in the mall next to Raddison hotel. “Tapped beer and international kind of starters! Wow! Nagpur is getting a metro like Pune or Bangalore finally” gushed a friend. Today the promoter who had ploughed in over Rs. 2 crores in setting up the place cannot afford to keep it closed and pay lakhs in rent. He is desperately seeking a way out.
He is symptomatic of how hopes and livelihoods of thousands in Hospitality have been dealt a death knell in this latest lockdown.
With the latest State Govt order forcing total lockdown on all restaurants – except take aways and Home deliveries – the Nagpur eateries fear “it’s the end for us”.
Among restaurants registered with Zomato and Swiggy there are 1500 – 1800 medium to large restaurants in Nagpur city. If you count Saojis and ‘taparis’ that are present in every nook and corner there are thousands of them. They offer foods of every kind : Punjabi, South Indian, Gujarati, Marwari veg., Maharashtrian and of course Indo Chinese. Beside offering sustenance to large numbers who come to Nagpur from neighboring states for Medical treatment, Trading, Social events etc. they also offer employment to lakhs of people. Some very highly paid ‘Chefs’ or Ustads.
“Badi himmat se 2020 ka pehla 6 mahino ka lockdown toh par kar liya lekin ab gujara mushkil hai” opine all the hotel owners and Restauranters NT spoke to yesterday, newly into latest lockdown.
Some very popular and high quality restaurants like Hibiscus and Southern Elements closed down in 2020 itself unable to sustain huge fixed expenses or migrating of employees permanantly.
Bharti Rajgopalan, Proprietor of South Indian place called ‘Southern Elements’ which was a very popular joint in Laxminagar opening early at 8 a.m. says she did make an effort to sustain on Home Deliveries for a few months.
” But most South Indian dishes are not adaptable to home deliveries. Imagine the pleasure of eating a sizzling hot Masala Dosa or Uttapam from the tawa to your plate! How can that freshness or crispness be packed?” Asks Bharti who had really struggled in the restaurant’s nascent stage in 2012 to make it a success. “It was my baby! Of course I felt very bad downing the shutters indefinitely. But I didn’t want to join the rat race of offering 50% discounts on Zomato or Swiggy by compromising on quality.” She says.
“We not just sustained but also contributed hugely to food donation drives of Langhars and Service institutes by donating 100s of Kg of wheat, rice, oil etc. in the good faith that better days would come back. But now our back is broken” says Mandip Singh Padam owner of Sanjha Chullah which was initially founded by his parents many decades ago.
“Just last week in March I paid huge Excise duties of Rs. 6,93,000/ little knowing that the rug would be pulled from under our feet in less than one week!” He says. “Even after this month is over we may not restart our fine dining on the first floor for some time” he says sadly.
“Neither the Central Goverment nor the State government have understood or appreciated the unique service we provide and supported us in any way” laments Tejinder Singh Renu, Secretary of the Residential Hotel owners Association and also member of many state hotel associations. The Maharashtra govt under Shri Udhav Thakarey did consider and take some initial steps to giving us Industry Status which would have been a huge relief but that move remains on paper.”
Even the loan restrucuring measures of RBI aren’t of much help to them, many share. “When we are operating at less than 10% occupancy – in selling hotel rooms or running restaurant tables – how can we repay loans even if postponed by a few months unless we are given relief like the first world countries of Europe and America give?”
“My hotel has just one room occupied today in a 5 floor facility.” Says Renu.
They have made many first person pleas, sent many appeals to Finance Minister, even Prime Minister appealing for some lifeline, some support but no response has been forthcoming.
Why have we been singled out for annihilation? Asks Aditya Naniwadekar whose family runs banquet halls and restaurants across Nagpur.
“Markets have opened (and closed), malls have been permitted, even theatres opened briefly; banks are on most of the time, even trains are running and planes – packed with customers, with hardly any free seats, are flying but all sorts of restrictions have been levied on us only!”
They all state that since the first lockdown began in March 2020, uptill April 2021 most of them saw some semblance of normalcy in business for only 3 months past Diwali 2020.
“Aur ab hum sab ka Diwala nikalne ki baari aai hai”.
Apart from lockdowns, the Fear Factor generated about our business is killing us says Mandip. “We are asked to fill up only 1/3 rd tables; first we were allowed to remain open till 11 p.m., then they reduced it to 8 p.m. and now no opening till end of month? Are we the only ones supposed to be spreading the virus? And do they think we have some magic wand to survive?”
“Delhi government of Kejriwal has shown the way by not resorting to lockdowns. Why can’t others follow their model?”
Good governance, no confusion in policies, strict monitoring of rules… that is all that was needed, many point out citing Delhi example.
“If anyone anywhere is spotted without a mask there is immediate fine of Rs. 2000/ but no genuine businessman has been asked to shut down. Specially not restaurants.
Was it so impossible to follow this model nationwide?”
…. Sunita Mudaliar