By Sara John*
Kochi is in a transitional phase. The commencement of the Kochi Metro, increasing rate of urbanisation, and being chosen as one of the 20 cities for the Smart Cities Mission have pressurised and animated this urban conglomeration. The Kochi Metro stands tall as a matter of pride for Kerala, successfully bringing the Kochiites together and kindling a city spirit in their minds.
With the extension of the Kochi Metro up to the Maharajas College Ground, the Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) is planning to give the chaotic MG Road a facelift. MG Road is one of the most congested roads in the city. Once the business hub of Kochi, this long stretch has been steadily losing its sheen, long before construction works began for the metro. Lack of parking facilities and sidewalks for pedestrians in addition to traffic jams accelerated the decline in business activities in the region. KMRL aims to revive MG Road as the city’s business hub by addressing these logjams. The plan is to develop the roads running parallel to MG Road and divert the vehicles onto these roads, thus reducing traffic jams considerably. Cycling tracks and pavements will also be constructed on one side of the road.
Penalising Night-time Entertainment
Given the inevitability of the changeover of MG Road to revive the vitality of its commercial operations, it is essential to consider certain progressive changes in the laws aiding Ease of Doing Business (EODB). As per the Kerala Shops and Establishments Act of 1960, shops and establishments should be closed by the time specified by the government. If they extend their working hours without prior permission from the state’s labour department, they stand as violators of law. This restriction on the operating hours of shops and establishments at a time when lifestyle, technology, careers and opportunities are changing by the day is in itself a paradox.
Bademiya in Mumbai is a popular late night food joint for the local populace. However, the outlet’s owner was arrested for keeping it open beyond the permissible hours in 2012. Many such small-scale traders are unaware of the multiple compliance laws that govern shops and establishments. Such instances, which are commonplace in Kerala, draw attention to the need for initiating a progressive way to ensure compliance and encourage business.
Making Hay while the Sun Shines
The Central Government approved the Model Shops and Establishments Act in 2016, which proposes that employers can decide the opening and closing hours of their shops and establishments. It is up to the state governments to either accept the proposals of the Model Act or make suitable changes to it. With KMRL planning to make MG Road more attractive for shoppers, and the problem of accessibility being addressed by the metro and feeder services, Kochi is at an ideal juncture to consider the relevance of the proposal of night shopping and its potential benefits.
The progress and spread of any idea depends not only on its strength and force, but also on the predisposition to receive it of the age to which that idea is presented. (William Lecky, 19th-century historian)
Until a few decades ago, Kochiites were not familiar and, hence, not comfortable with the concept of night shopping. However, those days are long gone, and today, the changing face of Kochi is ready to take on some night-time action. The inherent cosmopolitanism of the city and generational change has paved the way for attitudinal changes in its people. Future Foundation, a market and consumer research group, reported in 2005 that consumerist societies and their affluent middle class showed great enthusiasm for night-time economy. Kerala being a consumer state with an increasing per capita income will benefit immensely by tapping the potential of the night-time economy.
Accessibility is one of the prerequisites for 24/ 7 operations. The availability of urban space in the form of pedestrian and cycle paths is another important element of physical infrastructure for fashioning the 24/7 environment. The launch of the metro and the implementation of the beautification plans on MG Road can meet the conditions of accessibility and availability of space.
Now is the time for Kerala to take reformative steps in legislation, facilitating EoDB and proper urban planning to brand its cities, making them more attractive for residents and tourists. Citing a global example, the 24/7 operations of the night tube in London along with the relaxation of licensing laws helped London to boost its economy, supporting 1700 indirect jobs within the night-time economy and increasing the city’s attractiveness in the world. The Kochi Metro can indeed unlock the potential of longer trading hours in the city, altering the way businesses choose to operate, boosting the service economy and opening up avenues for entertainment and leisure. As KMRL gears up for the makeover of MG Road, it would be significant to explore the potential of night shopping and entertainment that is no longer a utopian idea in the small state.
*This article is written by Sara John (Project Associate, Centre for Public Policy Research). Views expressed by the author is personal and does not reflect that of CPPR.
 Volterra, (2014), Impact of the Night Tube on London’s Night-Time Economy