Safety is a big concern for most of our cities. It becomes a bigger concern at night. Governments have tried various things to increase safety like increasing police patrolling, increasing the number of police personnel, stricter punishments, checkpoints at various locations in the city etc. All of these have had impact on safety but they are still very state dependent and cost a lot of money to maintain.
Unfortunately in our country, being able to afford and effectively manage these measures is not something we have been able to do well. We have a really poor police to citizen ratio and there are way too many bottlenecks in our judicial system right now. Also, all of these are measures that will catch the criminals and punish them. There is very little being done by way of prevention.
Wouldn’t prevention be a better thing to focus on? Preventing crimes from happening rather than punishing the criminal after the crime?
Kind of like a vaccine that prevents or to an extent reduces the chance of crime.
What if, we find a way by which we can decrease the chances of crimes being committed and increase the opportunities for employment and business without increasing government intervention and cost?
The proposed solution is:
Remove shutdown time for shops, restaurants, theaters and multiplexes.
On 9th August 2017, Maharashtra Government passed the Shops and Establishment (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Bill, enabling owners or shops, hotels, theatres and multiplexes in the state to keep their establishments open round the clock. It even made it easier to get permissions and licences. 
The only thing shops, hotels, theaters and multiplexes will have to do is get an online permission. This is going to be rolled out in specific areas in the beginning. This is a huge step towards making the city more attractive to start small businesses because now they effectively have a lot more business hours. It increases opportunity for doing business. It can truly transform the city into a ‘city that never sleeps’.
Almost every state has a Shops and Establishment Act. A list of states which have this Act can be found here. This Act gives State governments power to decide the opening and closing time for shops/restaurants in that state.
If we take the example of Bombay Shops and Establishments Act, 1948 then we can see that it clearly specifies the exact time at which commercial shops, restaurants and theatres can open and shut. The Act also makes it very clear that the state government or the local government can appoint inspectors to make sure that the law is followed.
It is interesting to note it is NOT the duty of the local police neither is it under their jurisdiction to shut down shops at night unless it is officially notified by the state government. Although it is very common to see a police van come to the shops late in the night asking the shop to shut down.
Kate Painter and David P. Farrington of Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge wrote a research paper titled ‘The Dudley Project‘. It correlates the drop in crime rate with improved street lighting. Research shows how, all other variables being the same, an area which is well lit will have a low crime rate than an area which is not well lit. It also shows how an area’s crime rate will reduce even when the only intervention introduced is proper street lighting. This happens because more people are active outside because of proper lighting and the presence of more people is a deterrent to criminal activity.
Indian streets are not always well lit and even if they were, why would people want to hang out late in the night if there is nothing to do? We need to give people an incentive to stay out late in the night. Shopping or eating out can be those incentives.
If shops and restaurants remain open late in the night, more people will move around the city at night and in turn act as deterrents to criminal activities. In case of theft, having more people around increases the chances of being caught and in case of harassment, having more people not only increases the chances of being caught but also increases the chances of a potential victim reaching out for help.
It also helps traffic congestions because when you increase the possible working hours of an establishment, then the traffic will be spread out over a longer period of time and so average traffic will reduce. People who can go late, will go late and hence peak hour traffic will reduce. There are also people who believes that keeping bars open all throughout the night actually reduce the instances of drunk driving and drunken behaviour because ‘last call’ generally makes people binge drink rather than their usual responsible drinking and in turn leads to more accidents/incidents.
It also gives businesses freedom to choose their timings and in turn decide whether staying open till late in the night or even all night is a profitable option.
We will have more evidence for this once we see its impact on safety and business in Mumbai. For now, we have to rely on logic and research from around the world. In one move, government can benefit cities, businesses and increase the level of safety in the city. It is also possible that till the move has clearer evidences, it can be piloted in some areas of the city and slowly expanded to others.
What do you think about this solution?
Do you think it could help reduce crime? Do you think it would be a good move for businesses in the city?
Is there anything else which the government can do which would not involve increased cost or intervention?