Raids on Agra hotels upset hoteliers, tourists

Agra, July 13 (IANS) Hoteliers in the Taj Mahal city of Agra are fuming after officials raided budget hotel rooms here to catch tourists consuming alcohol and with female company.

The hoteliers -- and tourists too -- are asking if hotel rooms should be seen as public or private space and whether tourists should be expected to carry their marriage certificates.

Concerned over falling revenue, excise department official A.K. Verma has ruled that all hotels without valid licences should not allow consumption of liquor in their premises. Hoteliers say the law permits individuals to carry up to three bottles of liquor and consume them in a private place.

A couple of days ago, two youngsters were found drinking beer in a hotel room when the raiding party forced it open. They were photographed too. Several harassed tourists are now posting messages on tourism web sites criticizing the high-handedness of the Agra authorities.

The excise department says hotel owners will be booked if guests were found taking liquor.

"Empty bottles and cans have been taken away as proof of liquor consumption to harass hoteliers," said an office-bearer of a tourism body.

Tourism industry leader Rajiv Tiwari told IANS: "There is a clear Supreme Court ruling which says a hotel room is a private place and nobody has a right to intrude into the privacy of guests. Only on search warrants can a room be opened and guests questioned.

"But officials here are saying a hotel, the rooms included, is a public place. Hotel owners are asked to explain empty bottles. This is too much.

"Tourists come for fun and they are free to do what they want in the rooms."

Another hotelier, Ravendra Kumar, wondered if hotels would now be asked to fix CCTV cameras inside the rooms, suggested hotelier Ravendra Kumar.

Sensing the mood, Agra's Divisional Commissioner Pradip Bhatnagar has now ordered a stop to the raids.

The Agra Hotels and Restaurants Association met District Magistrate Zuher Bin Sagir to lodge a protest.

The city has more than 500 small and big hotels. "Surprisingly, the five star hotels have been spared from this moral cleansing exercise," hotelier Sandip Arora said.

Lovers do flock to Agra, say hoteliers, because it is a city of love and romance, thanks to the Taj Mahal.

"A significantly large number of visitors are those on honeymoon, newly married or just friends in love. How is it possible for a hotelier to keep a check on who is what, and what is the formal relationship?" says social activist Shravan Kumar Singh.

The ministers in the Samajwadi Party government from Agra have asked the district authorities not to harass the hoteliers.

Two days ago, when a delegation of the tourism trade met him, district magistrate Sagir promised to look into the complaints of harassment, but he wanted no one to consume liquor in hotels "beyond limits".

(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at brij.k@ians.in)

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