Day 2 liquor sale: Long queues, higher taxes, doubts over home delivery

Updated on May 06, 2020 05:52 AM IST

Till Tuesday evening, four states – Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Rajasthan -- had announced an increase in the excise duty for liquor.

A long queue of people outside a liquor shop after relaxations allowed their opening at Meerut road in Ghaziabad on Tuesday.(Sakib Ali/HT Photo)
A long queue of people outside a liquor shop after relaxations allowed their opening at Meerut road in Ghaziabad on Tuesday.(Sakib Ali/HT Photo)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By

Increased excise duty on alcohol, heavier deployment of police personnel to enforce social distancing, long queues and speculation over home delivery of liquor in some states marked the second day of liquor sales across the country after curbs on sale of alcohol was lifted after 42 days on May 4.

Till Tuesday evening, four states – Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Rajasthan -- had announced an increase in the excise duty for liquor. Delhi increased the tax by 70%, Andhra by 75%, West Bengal by 30% and Rajasthan by 10%, all to raise funds to fight the pandemics and manage state finances, the governments said.

To reduce chaos at liquor vends, the Chhattisgarh government set up a new company, Chhattisgarh State Marketing Corporation Limited, to deliver liquor at home in green zones, a government statement said.

“A customer can order up to 5,000 ml of liquor at a time for home delivery and the delivery charge will be Rs 120,” the release stated. Except Raipur and Korba districts, the remaining 26 districts of the state are green zones.

West Bengal also allowed online sale and home delivery from retail outlets to restrict footfall at the shops, officials said. How did it facilitate online delivery?Will delivery men from stores come home? “We welcome the government’s decision,” said Dilip Pal, a shopkeeper from the Sealdah market in Kolkata.

Punjab is likely to take a call on a similar proposal at a Cabinet meeting on Thursday. “For allowing home delivery of liquor, we need to make changes in the excise policy.For that, Cabinet’s approval is needed,” said a Punjab government official. Others states have brought in changes in excise policy through a Cabinet decisions. In Punjab, the proposal to is deliver liquor at home from local vends.

In the excise policy for current financial year, the Punjab government had approved a pilot project for home delivery of liquor in Mohali. However, the proposal could not be implemented as curfew was imposed all across Punjab from March 22 to contain the outbreak of Covid-19.

Some states, such as Assam and Andhra Pradesh recorded high sales on first few days. Assam, where liquor shops opened from Saturday, earned between Rs 75 crore to Rs 80 crore in the first three days, officials said. Assam earns on an average earns Rs 65 crore per month from liquor sales.

“On the first day (Monday), Andhra Pradesh earned around Rs 68 crore through liquor sales,” said a state government official. On the second day, Tuesday, higher revenue is expected as the price of liquor has increased and shops will open for an extra hour, the official said. In Karnataka, the estimated excise revenue on Tuesday was Rs 197 crore as compared to Rs 45 crore earned on Monday. The average for a day in 2018-19 was Rs 54 crore, official estimates showed.

Some states, such as West Bengal and Karnataka, issued orders to limit the sale of liquor bottles. In both the states, a person is entitled to buy only two bottles of distilled spirits and six bottles of beer. In Karnataka, where a similar order was issued on Monday morning, action was taken against a vend owner who sold more than the prescribed bottles to a customer, who put out his Rs 52,000 liquor bill on social media.

To enforce social distancing norms, local administrations deployed additional police personnel at liquor vends and, in some places, such as Mumbai, bouncers were hired to prevent unruly behaviour and jostling among customers. However, in some places in Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh, police had to use mild force to disperse the crowds. UP’s excise secretary, Sanjay Bhoosreddy, said the sale of liquor has been smooth and the government expects the revenue to increase in the coming days.

In Andhra Pradesh, where liquor is 75% costlier than it was in the pre-lockdown period, people scrambled to buy alcohol despite the price hike even as women in Nellore and Visakhapatnam districts protests at opening of the shops.

At Yetapaka village of East Godavari district, people queued up in front of wine shops from 9 am, though the shops are supposed to be open for business from 11 am. In Guntur, the staff issued tokens to the people in queue. Out of 3,468 retail outlets, only around 500, located in red zones and containment areas of orange districts and in malls, remained closed.

“The steep hike in liquor prices is to discourage the consumption of alcohol and number of shops would also be slashed by month end,” the official release said, adding that the number of shops may be reduced by 15% by the end of May.

Officials said there was huge rush at liquor vends in districts bordering Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana, which are yet to resume the sales. Police on Monday had to carry out a mild lathi-charge to shoo away more than 2000 people who crossed over into Karnataka through porous borders to purchase liquor.

In Rajasthan, where excise duty was increased by 10% to shore up money to combat Covid-19, shops opened late as police tried to control unruly crowds. In some places in Jaipur, buyers carried chalk to make marks to maintain social distancing. There were also complaints of overcharging from Jaipur and Chandigarh.

Unlike in the rest of India, liquor sales in Goa were devoid of incident because of the state’s high number of liquor dealers per capita. Goa has around 3,000 liquor retailers and 11,000 licensed liquor vendors, a bulk of whom are serving liquor through a bar or restaurant and cannot currently reopen. “Many of our loyal regular customers have visited us to restock on their supplies. There wasn’t any rush as such,” Dattaprasad Naik, the president of the Goa Liquor Traders Association, said.

While Kerala decided not to open liquor shops till May 17, the shops will open in Madhya Pradesh on Wednesday and in Punjab on Thursday. Tamil Nadu also announced that liquor vends will not open in Chennai till further notice while allowing liquor sale in the rest of the state.

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