Finally the Government of Karnataka has bitten the bullet and announced that restaurants will be allowed to open till 1 am every night, and bars will be allowed to open until 1 am on Fridays and Saturdays. The catch, however, is that this is just a pilot move, and the government will take a decision on making this extension permanent based on feedback from various stakeholders after the pilot period.

The problems with having a three-month pilot period are several. For starters, the Bangalore city police is already over-stressed, and in three months (with only a pilot scheme) it is impossible to recruit and train more policemen who will be required to maintain law and order at the late hours. The result of this will be that the existing policemen will get over-stressed, with extended working hours, which cannot be good for policing in general. And as my colleague Saurabh points out, the police might vote to not extend the deadline beyond the pilot period.

The next problem is with the businesses themselves. A number of restaurants, I’m given to understand, were not in favour of the extension of deadline since they did not think the extended hours of working would be adequately compensated in terms of revenues. Take for example a typical “Family restaurant” (like Shanti Sagar). If most of the restaurant’s regular clientile is families, they are unlikely to provide any incremental business in the extended hours, and thus it doesn’t make sense for such restaurants to be open late in the night.

One constituency that should normally welcome later opening hours are the offshored IT and BPO workers, a large number of whom reside in Bangalore. However, in response to the early shutdown of the city, IT and BPO firms have adapted over the years, and arranged for in-house food and transport for their employees. While life should become theoretically easier for these workers with the extended hours (giving them wider choice for food and transport), three months, and that too a pilot scheme, is not enough for them to change their behaviour. So it is unlikely that these people will take advantage of extended opening hours.

Then, to be open for two additional hours in the night, bars and restaurants will need to make further investments in terms of personnel. However, if the extension in deadline is only for three months, there is no way any bar can realistically invest in the necessary personnel and infrastructure to be open in the late hours. This is likely to further mute the response to the pilot.

Finally, it needs to be noted that there are strong network effects involved in maintaining a night life. The streets of a city will be safe late at night only if they are busy. The streets of residential areas are unlikely to be busy at that hour (in fact, they are empty as early as 9:30 pm in some areas), but what we need for successful night life is a cluster of bars, restaurants, theaters and other “happening” places in small geographical areas that ensure large human traffic in those areas, which makes them safe. You wouldn’t, for example, feel safe traveling back on entirely empty streets from the pub to your home. What this implies is the need for organic growth of night-life. Abruptly shifting the deadline, and that too on a temporary basis, is unlikely to have an impact.

It appears that the three-month pilot for extension of deadlines is a policy that is designed to fail. Three months is too short a time for any of the stakeholders to make any realistic investments or behavioural changes, and given the network effects involved, it is unlikely that we are going to have a critical mass of establishments and people who will take advantage of the extended deadline for the policy change to be made permanent.

Expect the extension in deadline to be rolled back as soon as the three months of pilot are over.

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.