NEW DELHI: Hauz Khas Village in south Delhi was deserted last weekend, thanks to Pankaj Sharma. The normally bustling warren of lanes lined with restaurants and boutiques was brought to a grinding halt by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which insisted that any establishment not adhering to environmental regulations had to close.
Some of them have reopened since then after promising to abide by the rules.
“This is the first time in India that such a large-scale review of environmental sustainability of the eating-out industry is being conducted,” said Sharma, who had petitioned NGT against the restaurants operating without adhering to pollution guidelines, leading to the Hauz Khas closures.
Thanks to his action, restaurants across India now need to worry about complying with environmental standards on top of food safety and other norms. This means they will need to install effluent treatment plants and stop drawing groundwater, among other requirements.
NGT followed up on the Hauz Khas crackdown by forming a seven-member committee on Wednesday to supervise the operations of all restaurants in Delhi, which is estimated to have close to 20,000 eateries.
Hauz Khas Joints Flouting Norms
The Hauz Khas restaurants did not have environmental clearances nor did they have sewage treatment plants, Sharma said. Leftovers were not being disposed of properly and the restaurants were found to be extracting groundwater illegally, he added. Sharma, 38, runs the Centre for Transforming India, which focuses on implementation of government policies.
The Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) estimates there are more than 20,000 restaurants in the Capital, which has the highest concentration of such establishments in the country, most of them operating in violation of environment protection norms. The move has drawn sharp and diverse reactions from the industry.
“Restaurants which are not compliant with the norms should do so,” said Samir Kuckreja, president of the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI), which represents close to 1,000 restaurants and vendors. “NRAI is disseminating information on the issue and also engaging with the pollution board,” he said.
Unlike standalone restaurants, which find it easier to ignore the norms, most malls are particular about enforcing the rules in outlets within their premises. An individual effluent treatment plant (ETP) can cost a restaurant 5-10 lakh.
“Some of the norms are not possible to comply with. In a store selling only desserts, for example, there’s no wastage that needs to be treated,” said the head of a prominent restaurant chain that specialises in desserts such as doughnuts, asking not to be named.
Others such as Pravin Juneja, CEO of South Asian Food & Hospitality, a franchisee for restaurants such as Nirula’s, Subway and Moti Mahal, said the implementation of the norms is possible, but conditionally. “Many chains were setting up restaurants in places which are less organised – for example, in heritage places – to avoid high rentals. Complying (with) the norms will involve a cost… Unless the guidelines are enforced strictly, some firms could still find ways to evade the norms,” said Juneja.
DPCC said it would take up the issue on an urgent footing. “NGT is helping us implement these environmental norms and our attempt is to ensure the guidelines are implemented at the earliest by the restaurant industry,” said Sandeep Mishra, member secretary, DPCC. Mishra added that DPCC’s focus earlier was on clamping down on industrial pollution, and now it’s increasing supervision of the restaurant industry.
The committee that will supervise operations of restaurants has representation from DPCC, the Delhi Municipal Corporation, Delhi Development Authority and the three other municipal corporations of the Capital.