New liquor regime kicks in with some opening hiccups as vends get into gear

Hindustan Times on Tuesday visited at least 14 new liquor shops in east, central and south Delhi and found none of them was ready. Also, the five new super-premium liquor shops for high-value products will take longer to open as the revenue department is yet to call for applications.
The new excise policy aims at providing a more equitable distribution of stores by dividing the Capital into 32 zones for the retail sale of liquor.(HT file photo)
The new excise policy aims at providing a more equitable distribution of stores by dividing the Capital into 32 zones for the retail sale of liquor.(HT file photo)
Published on Nov 17, 2021 11:13 AM IST
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BySweta Goswami, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Delhi will move to a new excise regime from Wednesday which promises to improve user experience, increase government revenue, and clean up malpractices in the city’s liquor business. But on day one of the new regime, only a handful of the shops will open as most either could not place orders for liquor stocks until Tuesday evening or did not have their premises ready for business.

HT on Tuesday visited at least 14 new liquor shops in east, central and south Delhi and found none of them was ready. Also, the five new super-premium liquor shops for high-value products will take longer to open as the revenue department is yet to call for applications.

Also Read| ‘Won’t act against pvt vendors for not paying license fee’: Delhi govt to HC

At MGF Metropolitan and Select City Walk malls alone, about five vends are coming up and none of them was ready as on Tuesday evening. The interiors of one of the shops are being planned with a mix of French and modern architecture with shades of black, white, and brown. “Our shop will be bigger with roughly 1,700 square feet area. Earlier it used to be a small space of about 700 square feet. The interiors are being done in such a way that we will have a separate side for whiskey and scotch, another side with fridges for beer, and a separate corner for wine. It will take us a day or two more to get the place ready. Now we are giving it an artistic look with multiple arches and exposed brick textures,” said the manager of the place who did not wish to be named.

When asked why the shops aren’t ready, the retailers cited a host of reasons like the excise department not issuing provisional licences for individual vends on time, difficulty in finding a location to open a store, protests by resident welfare associations and locals of areas where the shops are coming up, difficulty in getting approvals from malls or the district centres, and problems in placing orders with wholesalers.

“We have not received our licence ID from the department till now without which we cannot place orders with wholesale companies. We hope to get the ID by tomorrow morning and then we will place orders for all the four shops here. The deliveries will come only by Thursday,” said Monu Bansal, manager of the four shops that will come up at Mayur Vihar Phase-I’s Star City and Galleria malls. These two malls together housed at least 17 liquor shops in the old regime.

Excise department officials said more and more shops will be ready in the coming days. “We are issuing provisional licenses on a war footing. It often gets delayed because each licence is issued only after our officials inspect the premises. Most of them turn out to be unfit and we reject them. That is why only about 350 provisional licences have been issued so far,” said an official on condition of anonymity.

Another official said they are also helping licensees to resolve issues with the locals. “There have been protests by locals and RWAs against the opening of liquor shops in Kalkaji, Shahdara, Burari and so on. The government is helping retailers in convincing people as well,” said the official.

Also Read| Delhi govt all set to exit liquor biz, pave way for reforms

The new excise policy aims at providing a more equitable distribution of stores by dividing the Capital into 32 zones for the retail sale of liquor. Each zone will have at least 27 liquor vends — all of which will go to one successful bidder. It also ends the system of collecting licence fees separately from each store. Instead, the licence fee and excise duty are charged upfront, and retailers are free to decide the selling prices and offer discounts in a competitive environment rather than a maximum retail price mandated by the government.

Work was in full swing at the liquor shop located near Savitri Cinema in Greater Kailash 2 as well. “We will take at least a week to open the store fully. Until then, we have made a small enclosure from where we will start selling liquor from tomorrow. The experience will be like buying liquor from a mall,” said Rajeev Malhotra, in-charge of the shop.

On Tuesday, none of the retailers was aware of what brands will be available from day one as they said there is no clarity about what the wholesalers will send. “They (wholesale companies) said they will deliver whatever they have. We placed orders for everything, they will send only what is available,” said a store manager of a new store that will open in South Delhi’s Kotla area.

Meanwhile, the Delhi government’s liquor store at Connaught Place wore a deserted look with all the empty shelves. The store had at least four employees. “We have not yet been told whether we will be sacked or deployed in some other government department. There are approximately 3,000 of us who handle the government’s liquor shops in Delhi,” said an employee who did not wish to be named.

After decades of operating around 60% of the city’s nearly 850 retail liquor shops, the Delhi administration formally exited from the business permanently from Tuesday night.

A third senior excise official said a file on this has been sent to the services department, which handles transfers and postings of government employees. “Nobody will be sacked. They will be accommodated in other government departments,” said the official.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021