A welcome change in Delhi’s excise policy
On Monday, the Delhi government proposed sweeping changes in its excise policy in an attempt to boost the city’s revenue, crackdown on the liquor mafia, and improve consumer experience. Its salient points include lowering the legal age of drinking in the Capital from 25 to 21; the government’s exit from the retail alcohol business; and an overhaul of the tax system. Delhi is one of India’s biggest liquor markets, and this serves as a major source of income for the government. The population-to-vend ratio in the Capital, however, is one of the lowest in the country. The city has 849 liquor shops, yet around 58% of Delhi is either unserved or under-served. The government expects the excise revenue to increase by ₹1,500-2000 crore annually because of the new policy. Currently, it earns ₹6,000 crore from the sector.
The new policy changes are welcome. For one, drinking age in Delhi is not in step even with other Indian states, let alone other megacities of the world. For example, Uttar Pradesh allows people to drink at 21. In New York and London, the drinking age is 21 and 18, respectively. The age rule is often observed in the breach in Delhi and it is better for the law to catch up on social trends. The consumer experience at the city’s liquor shops is awful, especially for women. Buyers are made to feel like criminals, and women are often harassed. Moreover, the sale of good quality liquor can be found mostly upmarket areas. There is also brand suppression, malpractice in registration, and an opaque cabal of operators controlling the city’s business.
The Delhi government’s attempt can help create a more reasonable and effective regulatory regime, and ensure that responsible drinking is seen as a legitimate social activity rather than treated as a crime.