At a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi keeps wondering how to claim how many jobs his government has created, the BJP regime spread across the nation keeps making a business a difficult proposition, thus affecting businessmen’s ability to generate jobs. The decision of the Devendra Fadnavis government of Maharashtra to regulate food prices inside multiplexes is a case in point. When India had no multiplexes, and one could watch a movie for Rs 5 or Rs 10 per head, what were the terms of employment offered to the employees of cinema halls? Did the projector man, the usher, the guard, the ticketing agent, the janitor, etc get proper appointment letters? Did they get salaries commensurate with the labour laws? No.

Multiplexes, while increasing the cost of cinema viewers manifold, offered standard industry norms of employment to their workers. Now when they are not allowed to earn as much as would be necessary to sustain their businesses, how will they pay their employees at the prevailing industry rates? Soon, we are going to see a retrenchment in multiplexes. The government’s intervention to regulate prices is nothing but norms of socialist nomenclature which continues to haunt the industry. Food and entertainment industries are the largest employers and any intervention is bound to flourish corruption-based economy. The government must allow the free competition which can help control the rising prices. Adam Smith’s invisible hand is a better tool to control the prices through competition.

A multiplex, importantly, is not a monopoly that the state must break. If on visiting a theatre, a cinema goer realises that he is trapped inside, having to shell out exorbitant prices for food, he has the choice of dumping that particular cinema for the next film in favour of other players in the competition. Ultimately, this would prove bad news for the viewers, too. If laying off the employees come across as an inhuman proposition to the theatre owner, he would hike the price of tickets to compensate for the loss in revenue that he earned by way of rent that all the eateries in the premises paid him. Some apologists of the Maharashtra government argue that, while the owner might be allowed to charge anything for food ― and they acknowledge that the customer has other theatres to choose from ― the viewers must be allowed to bring in food from elsewhere including home. This also, they fail to understand, is an interference in business. It is like arguing in favour of forcing a manufacturer to let a competitor into his factory and allow the latter to produce a competing product within the facility of the former. Allowing patrons to take food cooked at home into a PVR, INOX or DT Cinema is as ridiculous as allowing a charitable Bhandara inside an upmarket restaurant.

Finally, cinema is not a life-saving commodity like medicine where government regulation of prices is a must. A film is not water, for which one might argue the state must fix a price when the supplier plays a truant. A movie is not even petrol or diesel that all sections of the economy depend on. Politically speaking, this move of Fadnavis is hardly going to get him votes in the next election. With such socialist interferences, the BJP governments across the States are unduly putting off the free market advocates, who make a significant section of the right wing constituency. And, of course, Modi’s newfound businessmen-are-evil credo is a curse for India’s job-starved population.

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