City speaks: Operators of Paharganj guesthouses an unhappy lot
A weekly column which highlights various issues concerning Delhi.
The iconic clusters of vibrant neon ‘welcome boards’ that have long adorned Bollywood movies, portraying the bustling guest houses in Paharganj, now face a challenging situation. These affordable accommodations, considered a lifeline for travel nomads, are dealing with a double whammy of stringent government guidelines and the post-Covid economic slowdown.
President of Hotel Mahasangh Ajay Aggarwal particularly highlighted the hassle of obtaining permission to operate kitchens in guesthouses, one of the major reasons for restricted business. “In 2022, Ashwini Kumar as MCD commissioner okayed kitchens in guest houses. However, the licensing process is still in a limbo,” Aggarwal added.
The arbitrary restriction of kitchen operations has posed challenges for guests as well. For instance, if a customer requests hot water and milk at midnight, the guesthouse owner has to cut a sorry figure.
Paharganj and Karol Bagh are hubs of guesthouses in the capital, with approximately 3,000 of them operating from here. However, after a major fire at Arpit guesthouse, authorities implemented stringent rules, including restrictions on kitchen operations.
Moreover, guesthouse associations are entangled in a multi-layered certification system. Owners have to apply to Delhi Police for the No Objection Certificate (NOC) for their establishments, which is then forwarded to MCD and Delhi Fire Service (DFS).
Aggarwal said these three authorities fell under three governments, leading to confusion for owners.
Furthermore, the restriction on operating guest houses beyond the fourth floor has added to the woes. Ajay said before 2018, they could operate on the fourth floor, but after a fire incident, it was barred.
“This is an unfortunate state for a person who has invested lakhs of rupees in his property but can’t utilise it to its full potential, which directly hits profits,” asserted Ajay.
Lalit Mittal, president of Paharganj guest house association questioned the rationale behind the diktats. “A committee was formed after a fire incident in 2019 to examine measures addressing such incidents, but the proposal, submitted in 2020, is yet to be notified, adding to the owners’ confusion,” he said.
The guesthouses are also experiencing losses due to traffic congestion and increased taxes.
‘Government must give us permission to run kitchens’
The lack of permission to operate kitchens has an adverse effect on the business of running guesthouses in Old Delhi, Ajay Aggarwal, president of the Hotel Mahasangh, tells Amit Pandey in an interview. Excepts:
What major problems are faced by guesthouse owners?
We face numerous problems, but if I had to highlight one, it would be the restriction on operating kitchens. Although the government has allowed us to run our guesthouses, the absence of a kitchen poses a significant challenge in providing food to our guests.
Can you spell out how exactly is your business affected?
This restriction has had a substantial impact on our business, reducing it by approximately 30 to 40 per cent. Guests typically expect good food, but without a kitchen, we are left with no choice but to apologise for being unable to meet their food requirements.
Has the hotel and guesthouse business in the area recovered yet from the losses caused by the Covid pandemic?
We were severely affected by the pandemic, with our businesses being shut down for over a year. Although business has picked up since the lifting of restrictions, stringent rules and regulations continue to be a major concern for us.
What other problems are faced by owners of guesthouses in the Old Delhi area?
Old Delhi is known for its heritage; however, because of the improper or lack of parking spaces in the area, the guests feel reluctant to book rooms there. MCD should think twice before allotting parking spaces in Old Delhi area.