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Tuesday, Oct 27, 2020

Chaos in Indian cities as alcohol back on sale after 40-day lockdown

Chaos in Indian cities as alcohol back on sale after 40-day lockdown

Liquor sales have soared across India as states reopened alcohol and wine shops amid chaotic scenes following a relaxation in Covid-19 lockdown rules.

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.


Alcohol a big revenue spinner

The manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages is one of the major sources of the government’s revenue and the reopening of shops comes at a time when Indian states have been struggling to fill their coffers on account of the economic disruption the lockdown has triggered.

In Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, liquor sales reached around 300 billion rupees (36.5 million euros), while in the state capital, Lucknow alone, liquor worth 975,000 euros was sold.

The state has more than 25,000 off-licences.

“We have had bumper sales for the last two days. We had stocked up enough so that stocks do not fall short,” excise commissioner Guru Prasad told RFI.

In the western state of Maharashtra, almost 400,000 litres of alcohol was sold in just one day worth nearly one millon euros.

The northern state of Haryana also levied a "corona tax" and the price of high-end liquor was significantly increased.


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.

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