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Shutting shop on Street Legal
- Competition, ceasework eat up meals business off high court

Food Concept opened a year ago in Calcutta’s High Court para. A duplex establishment, it had eye-catching furniture, granite slabs and an exclusively vegetarian fare. It shut down recently, unable to bear the losses any more. And just in case it would have managed to remain open, this week would surely have spelt its doom.

For, the ninth day of the ongoing ceasework by lawyers to protest a government Ordinance hiking court fees ended with news that the stalemate would continue till December 3. This was decided by the 25-member West Bengal Bar Council after a marathon meeting on Thursday. A total of 568 courts in the state remained in suspended animation for the ninth day on the trot, with 52,000 lawyers participating in the ceasework.

And the High Court area wore a near-deserted look — none more so than the last remaining food stops. Already joining Food Concept on the has-been list are Madras Café, Relax (both more than half-a-century old), Bengal Hotel and Punjab Hotel, plus five other less-prominent eateries.

A combination of factors — from the obvious mushrooming of unauthorised eateries that serve it out much cheaper, to the less visible competition from others in the trade that have sprung up in the heart of the city — are forcing owners of the 237 licensed commercial establishments near Calcutta High Court to count their days.

Rana Ghosh, owner of a more-than-century-old eatery in the locality, says: “With roadside eateries offering everything, from chicken roll to idli-vada at low rates, clients often step out of the area to grab a bite.” The unauthorised establishments have clearly eaten into the business of the larger eateries. “It’s no longer profitable having a tax-paying establishment here,” sums up Asit Maulin, manager of Hastings Eating House.

It’s not just the eateries that are biting the dust near the high court. Tapas Kumar Ghosh, owner of the largest DTP establishment in the area, complains: “Not a single petition has been typed in my shop since the beginning of the lawyers’ strike… My employees are now bringing along typing jobs from other areas to keep us going.”

Even “god’s own” are not spared. Thakur Chandra Das, the priest who makes a living by doing the rounds of the business establishments in the area, says: “Things are growing worse by the day. Only God can save us now.”

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