The lockdown has been hard on Indians in ways more than one. And while liquor did not make it to the list of essential goods and services that remained open during the lockdown, some argued that access to alcohol could help reduce hospitalisations due to withdrawal symptoms, and thus reducing the burden on an already strained healthcare. But as the lockdown wore on, ‘how to make alcohol at home’ Google search started trending as Indians started running out of not only liquor but also patience. As India entered its Lockdown 3.0 stage, Indian states also started feeling the pinch of huge revenue losses, thanks to the stoppage in sales of liquor, which make up a major percentage of the state revenue.
Which is why, when the third phase of the lockdown was implemented from May 4, several states opened up non-essential services, including sales of liquor. Understanding the importance of liquor for revenue but also the need for social distancing, states like Delhi even implemented taxes as high as 70 percent on the sale of liquor. Despite these taxes, the opening of alcohol shops all over the country saw huge queues, with social distancing guidelines forgotten in the pursuit of booze. The opening of the stores became a festive occasion at some places too, with people cracking open coconuts and showering petals in front of shops.
However, as the country saw a jump in the number of coronavirus cases—with India now entering the top 15 countries in the world when it comes to the highest number of cases—cities like Mumbai shut their liquor stores within two days of reopening them, considering how grossly the social distancing rules were broken in places with steep numbers. Now though, a sensible solution might be on the radar.
“All major states are working on implementing home delivery options for liquor. While some have already announced such measures, more should do so very soon,” said Amrit Kiran Singh, the chairman of industry liaising body International Spirits and Wines Association of India (ISWAI) to The Economic Times. The ISWAI is a representative body promoted by multinational alcoholic beverage companies that have business operations in India. Its member companies sell 80 percent of all the spirits and wines in India, including companies like Bacardi and Brown Forman (which is known for its Jack Daniel’s family of brands).
“The need of the hour is to do alcohol retail with social distancing. We have spoken to all states without exception, saying social distancing is the need of the hour and that if alcohol revenue is important to them, they must take the load off retail counters and do home delivery,” said Singh. “States have understood it and all major states, right from Assam to Kerala, are already working on it. Some like West Bengal and Punjab have announced it. Some are completing their paperwork.”
In response to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on the subject of liquor sales during the coronavirus lockdown, the Supreme Court of India also advised the states to consider "indirect sale, home delivery" of liquor to ensure the enforcement of social distancing protocols at alcohol shops across the country.
The Delhi government, on May 8, announced an e-token system where anyone who wishes to purchase liquor can get a token from the website, which would then allow them to stand in queues in the shops. The site, however, crashed within a few hours of its launch.
Restaurant aggregator and food delivery business Zomato is one of the companies that wants to start home delivery of liquor in lockdown. “We believe that a technology-enabled home delivery based solution can promote responsible consumption of alcohol,” Mohit Gupta, Zomato’s CEO for food delivery, wrote in a business proposal to ISWAI, according to The Indian Express. ISWAI is considering other such tech-powered businesses for easy deliveries too. "There are also others like Swiggy, HipBar, and those that do home deliveries," said Singh. "All companies doing home deliveries for food and groceries could be considered by states for home delivery options."
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