In West Virginia, USA, a barber has to clock in 1200 hours of training and pass a stringent test to wield a pair of scissors professionally. On the other side of the globe, in Delhi, India, local government officials have their own ways of tangling up barbers in bureaucratic knots. West Virginia mandates licenses for both barbers and their establishments, while in Delhi, only the shops are licensed.
A July 7, 2022 notification from Delhi’s Public Health Department demands barbershops with up to five chairs to pay ~$ 24 (Rs. 2000) to register and a whopping $ 60 for each license renewal. Considering India’s per capita income hovers around $2500, these fees aren’t just steep; they’re Himalayan. Typically, securing a business license for the first time is costlier than renewals. Take, for instance, a fresh juice shop that pays $120 (Rs. 10,000) at first and then $60 (Rs. 5,000) to renew. The first fee often covers the government’s costs to set everything up, so why the heftier tag for renewals, if not to squeeze more out of these shops?
When a barbershop adds a sixth chair, the price jumps dramatically. The registration fee soars to $120 and renewal to $300. Does adding just one more chair really bring in five times the customers or the need for stricter health checks? It doesn’t add up.
If the bigger fees are meant to cover the cost of making sure these places are clean and safe, the government should show how the numbers work. Without a good reason, it looks like they’re just making it harder and more expensive for bigger shops to do business.
Most barbers might keep their shops small to dodge these high fees. That means they don’t grow their business, hire more people, or offer better services, all because they’re afraid of the cost. It’s a backward way of thinking that punishes barbers for wanting to do more business.
The number of chairs doesn’t tell you if a shop is making money. A small, fancy shop might charge high prices and do better than a big one that’s cheaper. It’s not fair to assume that bigger always means richer.
This new rule could squeeze out the little guys and leave only a bunch of mid-sized shops that just get by between the fees and the taxes they already pay. That’s not good for competition or for customers who want choices.
The big question is whether all that extra money from the fees actually helps keep things clean and safe. And how will they check if a shop says it has five chairs but really has six? The city already charges more taxes for business properties than for homes, so why not just have a simple registration and skip the complex licensing?
“What exactly does the Public Health Department do with the license fee to help public health?”
What exactly does the Public Health Department do with the license fee to help public health? The rules don’t make it clear. The fees are out in the open, but what they’re for is a mystery. That just doesn’t make sense.
To wrap it up, the government should spell out what they want to achieve with these fees. As far as barbers go, it’s hard to see the point. They clean their tools and change the sheets for every customer. People can pick their own barbers based on the kind of service and cleanliness they want. So maybe it’s time to cut through the red tape and let barbers focus on giving good haircuts instead of paying hefty fees for unclear reasons.
Prashant Narang is a post-doctoral scholar with the Knee Regulatory Research Center.