May 06: Since the new guidelines during Lockdown 3.0 by the government allowed opening the sale of wine and liquor in States that so desired, there has been a mixed reception by the States that allowed selling in a controlled fashion and following social distancing, the thirsty alcoholics and pleasure seekers thronged the wine and liquor shops ahead of them opening and throwing all caution to the winds, reports Subhash Arora
The most shameful sight has been in Delhi which has seen unprecedented long lines and breaking of social distance norms since Monday, the first day of opening. Taking advantage of the unprecedented pent up demand, the government levied an unheard of 70% Corona Cess on MRP from Tuesday, May 5. Without going into the legality of the action, it is a matter of concern that the lines have still not shortened though there are more concerted efforts by the administration. In Gole Market area, the line was so long even before the shop opened, that ITBP (Indo Tibetan Border Police) had to be requisitioned to maintain social distancing.
One also needs to question the wisdom of the government by allowing only government run stores (DTDC and DSIDC) to sell alcohol and excluding the private run shops and department stores that could have taken care of substantial requirement.
Andhra Pradesh went ahead one step further. They allowed the opening by imposing the Corona cess at 25% on Monday, thus becoming the first State to collect additional taxes for fighting Corona. But emboldened by Delhi’s decision, they went a step ahead and increased it to 75% of MRP as the Cess, and perhaps emboldening the other Chief Ministers, without realising that the indiscipline and race to the liquor shops was due to the pent up demand, as well as the tipplers with a slight imbalance of mind, stirring up patriotic emotions and sheer desperation for any alcohol, of any brand or price. And the fervour will lessen in days to come, when they have adequate stocks and are no longer anxious about increase in lockdown period without alcohol.
The government in the eastern State of Chhattisgarh deserves kudos for defying the logic of the Central government and starting home delivery in green zones to avoid crowding at wine shops. It has launched a web portal named after the state-run Chhattisgarh State Marketing Corporation Limited- CSMCL which monopolises the sale of liquor in the state. The liquor shops, closed since March 23, opened from Monday like most of the States.
Punjab government also needs to be complimented for starting sale of wine and liquor at the old rates from tomorrow, with shops allowed to open from 9 a.m to 7 p.m in the evening after which no movement is allowed, according to the central government directive. Home delivery can also be made by 6 pm by charging a nominal additional amount.
Haryana also began sales yesterday with no increase in taxes but the discounts that were available earlier have been generally discontinued, making them marginally more expensive to the end customer. Says Bill Marchetti, a well known Italian-Aussie Chef residing in Gurgaon, ‘Haryana prices are also up, but not like crazy Delhi. Teachers 50 Whiskey is Rs. 2500 and not Rs. 3450 like in Delhi. And in my area there are no queues.’
Worst affected by crowd indiscipline has been Maharashtra which saw lines up to 2 kms with safe distancing thrown to the winds and several mishaps and clashes with the police. Anguished by the locals throwing caution to the winds, the government again banned opening of the shops effective today, upsetting denizens to no end.
It is however interesting that the premium wine and beer shops were selling in the upmarket Foodhall and La Cave in Nature’s Basket that saw as perfect a discipline as possible. Says Sonal Holland MW, who handles the sale in conjunction with Foodhall on Linking Road, Santa Cruz, ‘Sales were conducted in an orderly fashion. Hands were sanitised and all customers were wearing masks. No more than 3 people were allowed to enter The Cellar at a given point in time, contactless deliveries and social distancing were adhered to,’ adding ‘Sales were definitely much higher than normal’.
A similar scene was seen at Nature’s Basket wine and beer section operated by La Cave which was visited by our Mumbai Correspondent Rishi Vohra at the Juhu location. ‘It was not too crowded. There were temperature checks and hand sanitisation at the entrance, with 6 feet distance between customers as the norm. It took me about 20 minutes to buy a few bottles of wine though the Indian beer had finished by then. In all, it took about 40 minutes from arrival to departure after the purchase.’
One can empathise with the Maharashtra government since the State has had the highest numbers-15,500 cases of Covid 19 out of which Mumbai alone has recorded 9,900 cases out of a total of 49,300 in India so far. However, it is high time, they conducted a study that would most likely indicate that wine drinkers are more disciplined, especially the premium wine drinkers who do not like to stand in lines.
Bangalore has proven to be the city with the highest civic sense in the past. It was not surprising that on Monday, there were lines of a kilometre each. But as Abhay Kewadkar, Managing Director of the import firm Tetrad Global Beverages said after finishing a visit of several retail stores selling his wines, said ‘I am inundated with calls about where to pick up our wines. The queue did come down to 500 meters yesterday and today further to 100 meters, and we can meet our retailers with whom we have to co-ordinate precisely where we direct our customers (an importer/distributor cannot sell to retail buyer directly and has to buy from a Retail shop) to place orders on the monopoly KSBCL. You see, the wine inventories are not computerised and we need to enter the shop to verify stocks physically. It was humanly impossible to do that till this morning.’
Generally, satisfied with the arrangements, he rued that the premium wine drinkers did not like to stand in long lines and there should be separate lines for wine customers. In fact, Cyber Wines had 2 lines on the first day- one for over Rs. 1500 and the other for less. One cannot even send a staff member since it is difficult to know the availability of various labels and one needs to be present to take instant decisions. Another issue is that a person can pick up a maximum of 2.25 liters, which is fine for liquor but not wine (it is a food product and a bottle has to be finished at the dinner table- a fact not appreciated by the powers that be). At least 6 wine bottles should be allowed (totally endorsed by delWine). Incidentally, there has been an increase of 17% in liquor taxes including 6% hike in excise duty announced earlier in 2020-21 policy but reportedly wine has not been touched.
UP has also announced an increase in the duties-with an increase of Rs. 100-400 a bottle on imported liquor from today. Telangana residents will pay 16% extra for liquor available selectively at various outlets.
It is a pity that wherever the sale of alcohol has been opened there has been unruly behaviour; but nothing that could not have been handled with proper planning and administration. Emboldened by the media looking for some ‘hot’ ‘breaking news’ such videos showing unruly mobs and big lines to buy 2 bottles in the blistering heat of over 35°C, there have been cases galore of such indigestible behaviour of the alcohol starved throats that would return to more normal behaviour after the initial urges are satiated. But things ought to quieten down slowly and God forbid, if the Corona cases increase, all hell is going to break loose.
Voluntary disclosure-The writer is a strong critic of alcoholic drinks because of the harm it causes to the system, drunken driving and domestic abuse and believes wine drinking is a panacea for many ills and ill health. He advises drinking wine in moderation.
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