Delhi restaurants, hotels allowed to serve liquor; bars stay closed
The Delhi government on Thursday asked its excise department to permit hotels and restaurants to serve liquor, a move the hospitality industry said could give a boost to the sector ailing due to the impact of the coronavirus disease.
Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia directed excise officials to furnish “necessary permission” so that liquor could be served at restaurants as part of dine-in services and in hotel rooms. He said the decision was taken keeping “revenue implications” in mind.
However, government officials said the directive alone did not mean that hotels and restaurants will be allowed to serve liquor from Friday. They said the move may still require the approval of lieutenant governor Anil Baijal, who is the chairperson of the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) and has overturned the government’s decisions in the past.
“Considering the revenue implications, the excise department issued necessary permission for service of liquor in the restaurants and clubs by licensees at the table and in the hotel rooms,” read the Delhi government order dated August 20 and signed by Sisodia.
“Bars will remain closed under the provisions of unlock guidelines of the ministry of home affairs. However, several state governments, including Assam, Punjab, Rajasthan, etc. have permitted service of liquor by licence holders under the Excise Rule in restaurants and clubs and in hotel rooms,” it said.
The Union home ministry allowed the reopening of hotels and restaurants from June 8 as part of its plan to resume businesses and activities that were restricted across the country since the end of March.
Bars and pubs, however, are still not allowed to operate anywhere in the country, including in the national capital, as per the latest “Unlock 3” guidelines applicable till August.
While Delhi allowed restaurants to open from June 8 in line with the central directive, it allowed hotels to resume operations on Wednesday. The sale of liquor from retail shops in the city began in May.
An excise official, who did not want to be named, confirmed receiving the directions from Sisodia, who is also the excise minister. “We are working on it and will place a proposal after examining all the rules and how other states have implemented it. The file will be sent to the deputy CM for approval,” he said.
However, another excise official said the proposal might go to SDMA for a final approval. “If approved, the order may be issued,” he said.
When asked whether the proposal will be sent to the Baijal or SDMA, the chief minister’s office said: “The matter falls within the ambit of the unlock guidelines and the Delhi government can take a direct decision on it.” The LG’s office declined to comment on the matter.
There have been instances of Baijal and the government differing on a subject. On July 30, the Delhi government announced the opening of hotels and weekly markets, but Baijal overturned the decision after it was sent to him for approval. The government sent him a second proposal to that effect on August 6. After that, Baijal convened an SDMA meeting on Wednesday and the move was finally green-lighted.
Prakul Kumar, secretary general of National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI), said: “We are yet to get the orders from the excise department... Just food is not enough; liquor is an important ingredient in the overall dining-out experience.”
“The bar space in the restaurant will remain closed, but liquor will be served at the tables. This way we can ensure social distancing norms. But we have to wait for the excise department order.”
In a letter dated August 16, NRAI sought permission from the Delhi excise department to serve liquor at restaurants.
Restaurant owners said the sale of liquor at restaurants will help them cut losses even as they cited social-distancing guidelines that ask them to operate with 50% occupancy.
Manpreet Singh, owner of Zen restaurant in Connaught Place and the treasurer of NRAI, welcomed the state government’s decision. “This is a great news for the restaurant industry. This order is timely, will help restaurant owners recover losses and allow people to have a good time. We are waiting for the excise commissioner’s order in this regard,” he said.
Kanwal Wali, secretary of the India International Centre (IIC), said: “We will continue not to serve liquor to our members and guests until something is communicated to us from the government.”