News Source: www.hindustantimes.com
South Delhi open-air dining plan stays indoors as fire law confusion hits policy
News Source/Courtesy: www.hindustantimes.com

New Delhi: The South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) launched its open air dining policy for restaurants under the civic body’s jurisdiction in September last year. However, till date, the corporation has given out only 69 licences -- with only 12 establishments getting the licences in the past four months.

Officials of the civic body aware of the matter said the policy failed to take off at the expected pace because of confusion over the fire safety certificate provision.

A senior official from the public health department of the civic body explained that a fire safety certificate is a must for all establishments applying for open air dining spaces. Though most of them were able to get the no-objection certificate (NOC) from Delhi Fire Services (DFS) for eateries on the ground floor, space on open terrace remains a sticking point.

Restaurant owners said that DFS doesn’t issue NOCs for open terrace, and the fire department has said that the SDMC should get third party safety rules audit for terrace areas since they do not have enough staff to get inspections done.

“Fire NOC is a precondition for open-air dining licence and owners are not able to secure it which is leading to very few prospective licensees approaching us. The Delhi Fire Services has asked them to make provisions like water sprinklers, staircases, hosepipes, etc. So far, licenses have been mostly issued to establishments located on ground-floor,” the SDMC official said.

The National Restaurant Association of India representatives say that the policy should be amended to resolve the confusion over fire NOC condition for terraces.

Sandeep Anand Goyle, managing committee member of National Restaurant Association of India, said that several meetings have been held between DFS, industry representatives and SDMC officials to resolve the issue. “This is a technical flaw in the policy. DFS is telling us that there is no provision of issuing fire NOC for open spaces while SDMC has made it into a precondition. Either the policy should be revised or the civic body may adopt suggestion by fire officials that the existing fire NOCs can be extended to the adjacent open spaces under some conditions like 25% vacant space, two stair cases, etc,” he added.

Goyle said it was not clear that who among the two departments would take this responsibility of issuing the clearance.

The Delhi Fire Service, in a letter to the municipal health officer of SDMC, suggested that the enforcement of guidelines should be verified by the municipal corporation. “In a joint meeting held in March 2021, the representatives of DFS have stated that they have limited manpower, and they are not able to issue NOC to terraces for which third party inspections may be carried out,” an SDMC official said.

In a response to the request from SDMC arguing that DFS should continue to issue fire NOC to terraces, the DFS director had stated in a letter dated March 11, 2021 that the safety guidelines should be verified by SDMC and no further NOC is required from the department.

DFS director Atul Garg said the of open-air dining policy was sent for their consideration. “We have told the corporation that our inspection should not be made mandatory. The establishments which have taken NOC for the covered portion can extend the same safety conditions such as equipment and staircase regulations to the open space as well. Why should the fire officials visit them again,” Garg said.

The zone wise distribution of open-air dining licenses shows that 29 have been granted in the Najafgarh zone, 27 in the South zone and 10 in the Central zone. The lowest number of such establishments in under the West zone where three such open air eateries are currently operational.

SDMC official said that some of area and establishments where outdoor dining licenses have been issued are located in places such as Aerocity, India Habitat Center, Aurobindo Marg, outlets in Kapashera, Dwarka, Rajouri garden, Hauz Khas and Green Park.

Goyle said, “The concept of open air dining policy is good and the industry has been pushing for it for the past 15 years.”

According to the policy approved in September last year, open-air dining is allowed only in restaurants with a health trade licence, and where there is an open space such as a rooftop which is private property. Recently, the north and east corporation have also adopted a similar policy.

The policy states that there should be no encroachments on public lands, footpaths or roadsides. No cooking is allowed in an open area and a liquor licence is mandatory to serve alcoholic beverages in open areas, officials stated. Structural safety certificates from a certified engineer and fire NOC from Delhi Fire Services is mandatory. The fee for this licence varies from Rs100-200 per sqm.

Before the pandemic hit last year, south Delhi had 2,000 big and small eateries.

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News Source: www.hindustantimes.com

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