by Elton Gomes
Musicians in Bengaluru are facing a hard time after the police are cracking down on pubs and restaurants playing live music in the city. In June, the Print reported that Bengaluru police have ordered that 27 joints be shut in the city for playing live music without a license. The crackdown comes as a 13-year-old law is implemented after the Supreme Court upheld the ruling in January.
The Print reported that the shutdown originates from the Licensing and Controlling of Places of Public Entertainment (Bangalore City) Order, 2005. The directive was introduced to regulate places of public entertainment, particularly those with music such as a discotheque with a DJ, a cabaret joint, and/or even a restaurant playing live or recorded music.
According to the 2005 order, restaurants will have to seek licenses, apart from operational ones, from the police to play music. The crackdown has been initiated as the owners did not apply for the relevant license. Owners have been booked under Section 294 (sings, recites or utters any obscene song, ballad or words, in or near any public place) of the Indian Penal Code, and notices have been issued to several others to apply for their licenses.
As per a recent report by India Today, close to 400 pubs and bars in Bengaluru could be shut down after the city police issued notices following the 2005 order. The notices were issued earlier in July by the Bengaluru commissioner. Bars and pubs were asked to obtain the required licences to play music within a specific period of time, or they could face closure.
A total of 393 notices were sent, out of which 326 were closure notices. Out of these, 54 joints who were served notices have applied for licenses, while 18 applications have been rejected. Besides affecting the pubs, the crackdown has seriously affected musicians as well. “Ban on live music means that we have no performance opportunities, which in turn means our source of income is affected,” independent musician Anisha Peter told Qrius.
What is the problem?
The official implementation of the Licensing and Controlling of Places of Public Entertainment (Bangalore City) Order, was supposed to take place in 2005. But the Karnataka State Assembly elections delayed it, and the directive was then implemented in April 2018.
Hospitality professional Akshat Prasad said, “In April this year, the Supreme Court passed a verdict stating that live or recorded music should not be played at these spaces, be it cabarets or live bands. A lot of this stems from the fact that dance bars are colloquially called live bands in Bengaluru. There is a difference in nomenclature,” the Times of India reported. The ambiguity over a dance bar and a live band is what led to the ban on live music in Bengaluru, famously known as India’s pub capital.
The law states that in order to obtain a license, the pub owner should submit seven documents. Failure to produce these documents within a specific time frame could compel the police to act against pubs and restaurants. Pub owners seem to have agreed upon to submitting six out of these seven documents. “The bone of contention is the Occupation Certificate (OC) as these are given to building owners and pub-owners are merely tenants,” Nikhil Barua co-founder of the Humming Tree, said, News 18 reported.
Sandhya Surendran, a legal advisor and artist management professional based out of Bengaluru, added: “The truth is that no venue has the license, they are all in the process of obtaining the documents needed to get that license—because getting those documents are also a process in itself, and a lengthy, bureaucratic one filled with red tap and corruption. These business owners has invested crores in setting up their restaurants and pubs, which includes spending so much money on trade licenses, liquor licenses, etc. Now, this additional license is effectively breaking their backs. None of them are saying they won’t comply with the law, in fact, they are doing everything they can to make sure they are in compliance with constantly changing regulations, despite the continuous flack they receive from residents associations, on so many grounds: moral, noise, parking issues, and more…[this move has been]devastating in short, for an entire industry, and for the livelihoods associated with those working in it.”
Pub owners protest against the ban
Recently, pub owners in Bengaluru got together to discuss recent developments relating to the 2005 order, and to protest “against the live music ban.” The owner of a live music club was of the opinion that some confusion existed regarding the implementation of the order, which is why the fraternity decided to hold a protest.
“I find this entire situation rather tragic, because the license itself stems from a valid concern, but the execution has led to it having a negative impact on legitimate businesses —an administrative hiccup that has arisen from a difference in the intent of the law and the execution of the same.” added Sandhya.
Akshay Prasad, from Vapour Pub, said, “We held a panel discussion regarding the issues that are being faced by the musicians after the ban, and discussed the possible solutions to fight this together,” Deccan Herald reported.
Here’s what residents have to say
Members of “I Change Indiranagar,” a committee of Resident Welfare Associations (RWA) said that they face trouble in terms of parking, dumping of waste, sound pollution, and excessive revelry because of the pubs. “There are 140 places serving liquor in four roads,” said Aruna Newton, a resident. “We are protesting illegal commercialisation. The building does not have an OC and is in violation of building byelaws. It has no proper parking. Their garbage is left on the street. Every aspect of their functioning creates dissonance,” another resident, Sneha said, as per the News Minute.
Vinoo Thimmaya, who resides near pubs such as ‘Tippler on the Roof’ and ‘Bottle and Glass’ said, “There are times when I’ve been unable to enter my home because vehicles block driveway. Bottles and cans are thrown into my house, drunk people have urinated on my wall as well. I just lock my gate at 8 pm and don’t come out,” the News Minute reported.
Prashant Kurup, who used to run a music management company, believes that the government should put in place effective land use policies: “Something that really amazed me about Bangalore was the complete lack of enforcement of land use rules. So many pubs, offices and other commercial enterprises operate out of residential buildings and colonies. While this is a boon to businesses who get access to cheap properties in prime locations around the city, I can imagine this is quite a nuisance to residents because among other things like noise pollution, parking is a massive issue. This is why, I think, the RWAs (Resident Welfare Associations) are looking for any way get these establishments out, and rightly so I believe.”
Independent music on the backfoot in Bengaluru
It seems that budding musicians have been caught in this crossfire involving the police, pub owners, and residents. Every gig stands important to any musician, and the closure of pubs can have a serious effect on the number of gigs around the city. Everyone likes to have their dose of chill after an exhaustive week, and local music bands tend to create the perfect environment to chill and to display talent.
How will Bengaluru’s music scene be affected with the ban in place? Anisha Peter says, “Bangalore as a city, has always been known for it’s live music, venues and talent. So they’re also taking away what Bangalore has been known for, for so long.”
Kevin Paul, a musician, spoke to Qrius: “We are not just influenced by artists like Jimi Hendrix or Beatles. Artists like Swarathma and Raghu Dixit have influenced me as a performer. My influence is only because of my exposure to these artists. This I believe can affect the next generation of musicians who get influenced by such local acts.”
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius.
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