The Covid-19 outbreak has indeed seen us embrace ‘the new normal’ in ways we have never imagined before. Giving us a reason to cheer, amidst the impending lockdown 4.0 that is speculated to bring lesser restrictions for citizens, in a path-breaking move, state governments have now implemented a new mandate permitting the home delivery of alcohol. Yes, a move that we all secretly wished upon for years!
Latest to join the list is Maharashtra—starting May 14, 2020, the state’s excise department has allowed local wine shops to home deliver a chilled bottle of beer and other spirits. However, there are caveats. Home delivery is only available in districts where the civic bodies have permitted alcohol sales. Unfortunately, this leaves out Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Nagpur, Aurangabad and districts where the local authorities decided to put a stop to the alcohol sales after the initial overcrowding and unruly behaviour that flouted social distancing norms after the government had allowed sale of liquor from May 4.
Purveyors of fine spirits in the state also need to have a permit for alcohol consumption to avail the home delivery scheme for alcohol. While those making the home deliveries need to be medically tested to ensure that they do not have any pathogens. They will then be given an identity card that will allow them to ferry your liquor order. Residents of Mumbai and Pune do not have to live in despair—an e-token system as well as issuing of online drinking permits is in the pipeline for alcohol sales. But the system needs to be implemented cautiously believes Satyam Savla, MD of Mumbai-based retailer Juben Wines. “Opening wine shops is okay but as long as it doesn’t increase risk of infection and spread on COVID-19; that has to remain a priority,” he said.
In Delhi, an e-token system has already been initiated that allows a buyer to register online. He or she will be allotted a time slot as well as a specific shop to purchase liquor. “The challenge with e-tokens is that if the limited number of token are issued to country liquor consumers who tend to be mostly from lower economic strata, the odds of them maintaining social distancing is drastically reduced,” Savla explained. In Delhi, Only 160 wine shops are open in the national capital and only 50 tokens are issued per hour.
Indian states and their excise acts never had any clear-cut provisions made for online ordering and home delivery of alcohol, it has always been a grey area. But with the Supreme Court of India, on May 8, 2020, dismissing a plea to ban the sale of alcohol stated that states should consider home delivery as a model of sale. There is already a growing interest from delivery partners in tap into this demand—food aggregator Zomato is already getting its act together, while Swiggy is also seeking permissions for home delivery of alcohol from licensed retailers. Savla clarified that the current change in rules regarding home delivery and online sales for spirits is a temporary move to manage the current pandemic. These provisions may be withdrawn as and when deemed fit.
Chhattisgarh State Marketing Corporation Limited, West Bengal State Beverages Corporation Limited, and Tamil Nadu’s TASMAC have set up online portals to order liquor. Karnataka has taken an innovative route where it has allowed restaurants, bars, pubs to sell beers and Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) as a takeaway, till May 17, 2020 between 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM in an effort to clear out perishable stocks.
These changes come in the wake of Ministry of Home Affairs’ decision to relax the lockdown guidelines that allowed wine shops and liquor sales to open up in green and orange zones. Chaos ensued with never-ending queues and all social distancing norms being broken. Overnight, states had to take drastic actions to avoid a healthcare scare. Wine shops in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu had to immediately pull down the shutters , while Delhi hiked the taxes on the sale of alcohol to 75%; Andhra Pradesh also increased taxes to 70%, but now has brought it down to 13%
The silver lining in all of this is the revenue generated for the states. According to reports, Delhi government earned Rs 25 crore, Maharashtra earned Rs 62 crore, West Bengal clocked in Rs 40 crore and Uttar Pradesh reported nearly Rs 100 crore sales—all from a single day of alcohol sales!
Alcohol sale and consumption is a socio-economic conundrum. The consumption of country liquor and substandard alcohol brands is directly linked to social evils such as domestic abuse, not to mention addiction. But at the same time, the economic significance of alcohol sales cannot be denied—since the start of the lockdown in India on March 24, 2020, there has been a revenue loss of Rs 30,000 crore for states, as per a report by Zee News.
What does the future of alcohol sales and consumption hold? Time shall tell.
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