Restau­rant op­er­a­tors need to strike a bal­ance be­tween rev­enue max­imi­sa­tion and wel­fare max­imi­sa­tion

HT Estates - - FRONT PAGE - Nam­rata Kohli ht­es­tates@hin­dus­tan­

The re­cent Mum­bai rooftop restau­rant fire tragedy that left 14 peo­ple dead is not the first avoid­able tragedy in the na­tion’s restau­rant cir­cuit. The main cause of the ac­ci­dent was the near ab­sence of emer­gency es­cape routes, in com­plete de­fi­ance of safety reg­u­la­tions. When will safety be on main course of In­dia’s restau­rants? Nam­rata Kohli speaks to Rahul Singh, Pres­i­dent, Na­tional Restau­rant As­so­ci­a­tion of In­dia (NRAI)

Fire safety norms are be­ing flouted by ma­jor­ity of the restau­rants in In­dia. What guide­lines are you set­ting for NRAI mem­bers to fol­low as an im­me­di­ate step?

Two thirds of our vast in­dus­try re­mains un­or­gan­ised and sus­cep­ti­ble to flout­ing norms. As the in­vest­ment en­try bar­rier for set­ting up stand-alone restau­rant or pubs is rather low and seen glam­orous in na­ture, we have wit­nessed scores of fly by night op­er­a­tors en­ter the sec­tor.

NRAI mem­ber­ship comes with the pre-con­di­tion of restau­rants pro­vid­ing a copy of their li­cense to op­er­ate. NRAI will add fur­ther facets to this repos­i­tory by tak­ing copies of Food and Fire safety li­censes from all cur­rent mem­ber data­bases. The chains fol­low the high­est stan­dard of com- pli­ance and gov­er­nance, and we will be shar­ing their best prac­tices for oth­ers to fol­low.

Mum­bai fire in­ci­dent re­it­er­ates the need for bet­ter in­fra­struc­ture at restau­rants and pubs through­out the coun­try. What are the few quick take­aways from the episode?

As ci­ties turn into mega ci­ties, eater­ies are bound to mush­room as they are cater­ing to pub­lic de­mand. What’s go­ing wrong is ei­ther the law is be­ing flouted or the law is not been amended as ci­ties de­velop. The stake­hold­ers need to be well aware of the norms and also the con­se­quences of not fol­low­ing them. Seal­ing of restau­rants won’t help. Tak­ing care of pub­lic safety should be the goal.

The rules are all there but im­ple­men­ta­tion is weak. But at stake are lives of all staff and clients. You have spo­ken about self­reg­u­la­tion but at the level of NRAI, what kind of penalty does NRAI pro­pose to im­ple­ment for non­com­pli­ance?

Apart from the safety of guests and staff, fire pre­ven­tion is also essen­tial to pro­tect the eco­nomic in­ter­ests of the restau­rant busi­ness. This process there­fore hap­pens be­fore the fire even ig­nites. One of the most ef­fec­tive tools for fire pre­ven­tion is an ex­ter­nal in­spec­tion. Only a state or city ap­pointed fire de­part­ment can con­duct a statu­tory au­dit, how­ever NRAI will en­gage with ex­ter­nal agen­cies for pe­ri­odic checks. While the fire norms will vary from state to state, there are some el­e­ments that would be com­mon. The as­so­ci­a­tion can­not levy any fi­nan­cial penalty, but will cer­tainly de-list the mem­ber for non-com­pli­ance.

What is your word of ad­vice to restau­rant own­ers who do not let go of an ex­tra square foot, and cre­ate ex­tra seat­ing at the cost of se­cu­rity? How should they strike a bal­ance prof­itabil­ity and safety of their premises and the clien­tele?

Need for re­spon­si­ble cit­i­zenry that doesn’t see the reg­u­la­tions as a nui­sance, but sees it as safety and se­cu­rity of peo­ple and prop­erty. Flout­ing norms is not a mark of bra- vado but a crime, an act that en­dan­gers peo­ple. Restau­rant op­er­a­tors need to strike a bal­ance be­tween rev­enue max­imi­sa­tion and wel­fare max­imi­sa­tion. They need to un­der­stand that an aware con­sumer will start weed­ing the grass and steer to­wards le­git en­ti­ties.

In the af­ter­math of the Mum­bai rooftop fire out­break episode, the per­cep­tion is that most pubs and restau­rants at rooftops or even hi­rises are un­safe. What is your view?

Restau­rants by their es­sen­tial­ity of open flames in kitchen, hot equip­ment, elec­tri­cal con­nec­tions, cook­ing oils, clean­ing chem­i­cals, pa­per prod­uct and fur­ni­ture have all the ingredients for a fire to flame out of con­trol. Fire Pro­tec­tion deals with pre­ven­tion of fire, while Fire Fight­ing deals with cure in case of fire.

Poor Fire Pro­tec­tion leads to ne­ces­sity of Fire Fight­ing ser­vice. One can­not ex­ist with­out the other.

A rooftop or high-rise is equally at risk of fire as a ground floor restau­rant, how­ever the in­fra­struc­ture met­rics are dif­fer­ent and thereby the norms too. Le­git­i­mate restau­rants across the world are sit­u­ated over rooftops, ho­tels and tall build­ings. In fact, the tallest point of the high­est build­ings in the world is usu­ally an eatery.

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