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Delhi considering going back to its old excise policy

Updated on Jul 30, 2022 07:19 AM IST

The plan comes before the current excise regime expires on Sunday, which seemed inevitable on Friday since government offices do not work over the weekend.

The order was issued by RP Singh, manager of personnel, at DSCSC. (HT Photo)
By, New Delhi

The Delhi government is switching back to the old excise policy for now, according to two official directions issued on Friday for the reopening of government-run liquor vends, a move that could lead to alcohol sales being halted for some time.

The plan comes before the current excise regime expires on Sunday, which seemed inevitable on Friday since government offices do not work over the weekend.

One of these orders stated that the deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia issued directions on July 28 “vide which it has, inter-alia, been directed to revert to the old regime of excise policy for a period of six months till a fresh excise policy is in place…” said the note signed by Ashish Chandra Verma, the principal secretary of the finance department, which was seen by HT.

The note urged four government agencies — Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (DSIIDC), Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation (DTTDC), Delhi Consumer’s Cooperative Wholesale Store (DCCWS) and Delhi State Civil Supplies Corporation Limited (DSCSC) — to gather by the end of Friday details such as names and locations of old vends, staff employed and the present status of those premises.

The second document, a copy of which too was seen by HT, related to the DSCSC activating the staff involved in running the vends, asking them to reach out to landlords to prepare rent agreement for “reopening” the shops.

The order was issued by RP Singh, manager of personnel, at DSCSC.

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When the old excise policy was in force, approximately 60% of the city’s 850 vends were run by the Delhi government, and these were not evenly distributed across the city. It was not immediately clear if licenses would be issued to any private entities for the duration of when the old policy will be in force.

Troubles in city’s retail alcohol market, a key source of revenue for the government, started brewing earlier this month when lieutenant governor (LG) VK Saxena sought a federal investigation into the elected government’s new policy, citing an administrative inquiry that found alleged irregularities made to benefit certain companies and individuals.

Since November, 2021, the city’s liquor market was fully in the hands of private businesses as part of the excise policy that the chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party said would liberalise sales and improve the buying experience, lead to more revenue, and break the hold of liquor cartel. The policy was due to run out on July 31 and was expected to get a third extension, but the new orders suggest the old one — which included sales by government-owned vends — will be brought back for a period of six months.

The AAP, the LG’s office and the Delhi government did not respond to requests for a comment.

At present, only 468 of the 849 licensed liquor shops were open, leading to an availability crunch. If the current policy is not extended — a move that would have otherwise extended the licenses — the shops will need to close, and liquor sales will need to be halted at restaurants and bars since those permissions too expire on July 31.

The decision came on a day when the office of the Assistant Commissioner of Delhi Police’s Economic Offence Wing also issued a notice to Delhi’s excise commissioner asking him to provide all documents relating to the award of liquor licenses under the new excise policy.

The excise policy is now one of the most contentious issues between the elected government and the LG, who reports to the Union government where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in power.

Shortly after Saxena sought the investigation, AAP functionaries called the move a plot to implicate their leaders in false cases.

Kejriwal has denied the allegations, defending his deputy Manish Sisodia, who holds the excise department portfolio.

Government officials aware of the matter reiterated the revival of the old policy will be temporary until the government finalises the 2022-23 excise policy, which will also need the approval of the LG. Under the 2022-23 excise policy disclosed previously, the Delhi government planned to lift restrictions from discounts, making liquor cheaper.

The new policy also proposes allowing home deliveries, opening of special bars that will serve only wine and beer; and discontinuation of the need to open at least two liquor stores in each ward. It remains to be seen what the final shape of the policy will be.

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