Serpentine queues of tipplers began forming at liquor stores across the country from Sunday evening before the government-run off-licences were due to open the following morning.
As alcohol sales resumed after 40 days of Covid-19 lockdown, chaos erupted in several cities with police resorting to baton charges and in many places vendors had to shutter their premises.
Physical distancing norms were flouted.
Similar scenes played out in all the big metropolitan centres including the financial capital, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore and Jaipur.
“These queues are unimaginable. We never expected such a massive turnout and obviously we had a tough time controlling the crowds,” Delhi police inspector Dependra Gupta told RFI.
Despite the Delhi government marking up alcohol prices by 70 percent, levying a ‘corona tax’ across categories, it did not prove a deterrent as crowds surged on the nearly 100 shops that were allowed to operate.
The bedlam that prevailed in the capital forced chief minister Arvind Kejriwal to intervene, threatening to close the liquor shops.
“If we come to know about violations of social distancing and other norms from any area, then we will have to seal the area and revoke the relaxations there,” said Kejriwal.
Fearing huge financial losses and job cuts, the Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies (CIABC) has urged state governments to impress upon the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government the urgent need to start sale of liquor in non-Covid-19 hotspots.
“The alcoholic beverage industry contributes around 2 trillion rupees (24 billion euros) every year as revenues to the government. The tax on alcohol makes up 20 - 40 percent of tax revenues of [individual] states. A total ban on liquor deprives state governments of own revenue so vitally required in fighting Covid-19,” CIABC Director General Vinod Giri told RFI.
The prolonged unavailability of alcohol has had serious consequences with growing reports of liquor smuggling, sale of illicit and spurious alcohol, and even looting of shops.