KATHMANDU: The zero tolerance ope-ration against drink and drive is proving to be intolerable for most businesses that were still reeling from the clampdown to call it a night between 9:00 pm to 12:00 midnight, depending on the nature of their business. While the
deadlines were imposed citing security reasons, the existing law defines driving under the influence as illegal, irrespective of the level of intoxication.
Pesky policiesThe ones to suffer the hardest blow from these drives that are meant to be for the greater good are the restaurants and
pubs, which number to over 600 within the Kathmandu valley alone. Since the inception of the operation against drink and drive, the sales of restaurants have reportedly dwindled by around 30 per cent.
“We whole-heartedly support the operation against drink and drive, but we are against the zero tolerance policy,” says Pramod Kr Jaiswal, vice president of Restaurant and Bar Association of Nepal (REBAN). According to him, the policy is highly impractical from the perspective of our culture and trend of celebrations.Binaya Bd Maharjan, general manager of Cube The Club,
Kamaladi, is also worried about his business. “The government still has a wrong perception about nightlife. Although clubs are permitted to operate, deadlines have been imposed as if they are committing some heinous crime,” he says. Ear-lier, night parties used to be stretched till wee hours in the morning, but now they are compelled to shut down at around 11:30 pm, which is when the party would normally just begin. Complaining that the operation against drink and drive has tremendously and adversely affected their business by 50 per cent, he says, “I agree there should be a limit to alcohol consumption that drivers need to adhere to before getting behind the wheel, but the zero tolerance is simply impractical.”
Event management comp-anies are also facing the brunt of these strict policies, as most of the parties are organised
after the sun sets on the western horizon. According to Robin Sitaula, director of
U-turn events, the operation against drink and drive has brought their business down by around 30 per cent. “Although the move against drink and drive is a nice idea overall, the zero tolerance does nothing to bolster our struggling economy,” he says. He also opines the government should extend the time deadlines so that nightlife entrepreneurs can run their businesses well.
Smokey scenarioThe drive against driving under the influence is not the only one that has been enforced lately. After the Tobacco Control and Regulatory Act-2010 came into effect, smoking in public places had been banned in 2011. However, the Act was only
recently enforced and the cops arrested and detained hordes of people for smoking in public.
As per the anti-smoking law, people caught in the act can be penalised with fine amounting up to Rs 100,000, depending
on the nature of violation. Although laudable, this law is generating serious concerns too.
“It seems like the government has not really thought through the anti-smoking law because neither has it clearly defined which are the ‘public places’ nor designated any smoking zones,” says Sabin Lal Shrestha, president of Nepal Beverages and Cigarette Industries Association.
Meanwhile, a source at Surya Nepal seemed genuinely surprised by the government’s move to arrest people for smoking in public when the Supreme Court has not given any directives regarding the policy. “Our products have not witnessed any significant change in sales,” he says, adding that the government should nonetheless abide by the decision of the Supreme Court.
Doing the dutyIn defence of the mounting complaints against drink and drive that show no signs of abating, Chief of Metropolitan Traffic Police Division (MTPD), DIG Ganesh Raj Rai says, “We are merely enforcing the law, which clearly states there is zero tolerance on getting
behind the wheel after consuming alcohol.” Stating that they have not barred anyone from selling or buying liquor, he
informs that it is only the unhealthy practice of drink and drive that has been banned.
According to him, the drive has not merely reduced the rate of accidents and related fatal-ities and causalities but also mitigated the rate of criminal activities that take place during evening and night. He is of the opinion that there has to be zero tolerance in drink and drive in Nepal as the traffic system is not up to the required standard and peope lack self-discipline.
Reiterating that the new law was introduced in the light of increasing criminal act-ivities occurring in the city, Chief of Metropolitan Police Range, Hanuman Dhoka, Jaya Bahadur Chand, first SSP of the range says, “The unorganised nightlife poses a serious
security threat to the denizens in the valley.”
Stressing that the nightlife entrepreneurs themselves are not following the code of conduct, he says, “If they can ensure the security measures for the safety of their customers, we will allow them to run their businesses for couple of hours more.” According to him, there has been trem-endous improvement in the security of the valley due to the deadlines for shutting down the nightlife businesses.
Meanwhile, DIG Rai opines that the government should provide the police with latest equipments to facilitate them to carry out their
duties more effectively.
Required recourseDespite the fact that all the new policies have been well-intended, entrepreneurs demand some amendments be made without delay. Under-scoring that they have been diligently paying their taxes, Jaiswal says the government should show some consideration for smooth running of their businesses and not keep coming up with policies that are detrimental for the health of the
national economy.Also complaining about policies not being implemented effectively and being short-lived, he says, “The government should focus on bringing proper policies and making sure they are effectively implemented and long-lasting.”
Maharjan also points out that proper monitoring is lacking. To illust-rate his point, he states that some restaurants
and party venues are throwing commercial dance parties, which they are not supposed to. “How-ever, the law enforcers turn deaf and mute to such cases,” he alleges.
Meanwhile, Shrestha says, the burgeoning entertainment industry pays huge amount of tax to the government, and hence the zero tolerance policy is impractical in such a context. Also, while liquor consumption at restaurants and pubs has reduced by 25 per cent, its sale has reportedly witnessed double digit growth as compared to previous fiscal year. This brings to the forefront the possibility of another set of menaces plaguing the society — drinking at home in front of children and returning home late to escape traffic checks.
Not all hope is lost, however, as some restaurants and pubs in the valley have started a drop facility to their customers while some have arranged drivers to ferry the customers under the influence in their own cars.