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The Pink City might be the tourism ministry's showcase destination in north India, but the hospitality industry says the Rajasthan government's stringent rules are hitting it hard.
It is complaining against a hike in liquor licence fees, a tighter time limit on liquor vends and the shutting down of hookah bars. Jaipur sees over five lakh tourists a year.
After coming to power in 2009, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had said he did not want to "promote liquor culture" and would ensure a stop to "the culture of boys and girls going hand-in-hand to pubs and malls for drinking". He increased the licence fee, reduced the number of wine stores from 1,700 to 1,000 and forced them to shut by 8 pm instead of the earlier 10 pm. Also, a 20 per cent VAT on Indian-made Foreign Liquor and beer is said to have hit sales.
"If you want foreign tourists, you have to have a liberal liquor policy," said Randhir Singh Mandawa, general secretary, Indian Heritage Hotels Association.
Principal secretary (tourism) Rakesh Shrivastava denied the liquor policy has dented tourism. "We have not received any such complaint. We have increased the licence fees sharply but we give bar licences quite liberally.."
The hookah bar ban first came into effect in December 2011 for two months after allegedly "harmful contents" were found during raids. The ban has since been extended every two to three months. All 47 hookah bars are now shut.
Commissioner of Police B L Soni, said, "We did a secret survey and found children smoking hookahs. We got 48 samples tested and they contained nicotine. After the ban, so many parents actually called me up and wrote thanking us... What we are doing is for the good of society."
Jainandini Singh, proprietor of Café Kooba in C-scheme, said, "There were no schoolchildren smoking in the hookah bars. Moreover, we in our study found that sheesha contains 0.005 mg of nicotine, less than what even tea contains. The counter-argument to this has been that the volume of smoke is higher in hookahs, but one person alone usually does not smoke an entire hookah and shares it, so it gets distributed," said Singh, who challenged the ban in court, lost, and shut her café.