Consumer Is King, But The Kingdom Has Problems

by Prahlad Rao - Jun 30, 2016 03:19 PM +05:30 IST
Consumer Is King, But The Kingdom Has ProblemsPhoto Credit: Rebecca Conway/AFP/Getty Images
  • Law to provide 24x7 shopping and entertainment is progressive

    In the Indian context, this new consumer culture raises many questions

It is a cultural shift. It will change the way we conceive shopping and entertainment in India.

The Union government on Wednesday cleared a model law that allows shops, malls and cinema halls, among other establishments, to run 24×7. The model law is suggestive in nature and can be adopted by states with modifications to suit their requirements.

While the business community has welcomed it, the man on the street has mixed opinions, with bewilderment being a dominant feeling.

The law will make our big cities go the global way with 24x7 shopping and entertainment possibilities as in many cities of the world. It will cover establishments employing 10 or more workers and provide freedom to operate 365 days with flexibility on timings to open and close.

This freedom will mean more business in selling and buying, convenience for city folks working in odd shifts, staggered crowds as everybody won’t rush in at evenings to buy goods, increased employment opportunities both at the shop front and down the supply chain. Finally, consumer is king.

We may soon have shopping hours for singles, couples and family. The nocturnal will have new places to explore.

But the choice comes with many apprehensions.

First, our cities are not equipped to handle such a shift in the culture of consumerism. Our transport infrastructure is bad even in the best-connected cities like Mumbai. Commuting at night is always a challenge.

Second, security is a big question mark. The progressive argument is that as more women come on to the streets, better will be the sense of security. But an argument does not always translate into action on the ground given the inadequate police force and their low morale.

Better working conditions have been made a key focus area of the law. It provides for women to be employed on night shifts with adequate security and provision of restrooms and transportation while also listing working conditions such as drinking water, canteens, toilets and crèche.

Hence, the third question: who will check that the exploitation of workers does not occur?

Even though the spirit of the law says that long business hours will encourage more people being employed (there will be three shifts), it is commonly known that workers are made to work inhumanly long hours, without mandatory holidays.

To be fair, the new law lays down statutory obligations and rights of employers and employees. But the devil is in the detail as the states will implement the law, and how they adopt it is key to its success.

The fourth apprehension is about the haphazard growth of our cities. Many malls with cinema halls have been permitted to come up in residential localities, and strict zoning of business and residential properties is hardly followed in India. As a result, one will find a commercial establishment right next to a residential complex. This zoning mess will be a big nuisance in cities.

So, although this new law is progressive, the states do not have the will or the means to tackle the social cost of this cultural shift.

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