May 01: With the 2-week extension of Lockdown in India for the third phase, starting from May 4, wisdom has dawned on the government of India and it has allowed a limited opening of liquor and wine shops, tobacco and pan shops in the orange and green zones, albeit with several conditions
Instead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi making the announcement of further extension of Lockdown from May 4 to May 17, Ministry of Health Affairs (MHA) announced on Friday, May 1 that it was finally liberalising the sale of wine liquor and tobacco products from May 4 but under some strict conditions, in the orange and green zones.In Red Zones the sale will be allowed in the shops outside the containment areas. There are 319 districts in green zones and 284 in Orange zone with the balance 130 including the whole of Delhi in red zone.
Shopkeepers are required to make sure that the safe distancing of two-metre between all customers is maintained. At one time, not more than 5 customers will be allowed in the shop. These shops must be stand-alone and not in a market complex or shopping mall. No announcement has been made about the timings which are presumed to be according to the original timing of opening.
While extending the nationwide lockdown for another two weeks, the Ministry of Home Affairs allowed the liquor and tobacco shops to open again in green and orange zones as well as outside the containment areas or hotspots in red zones.
There have been strong requests and lobbying by wine and liquor manufacturers and importers through various associations, not only to help the alcohol addicts and those who seek wine and liquor for pleasure but also to ensure that the loss of excise duties may be curtailed. There has been extensive bootlegging, looting of shops and depression has been setting in. There have been reports of the addicts consuming sanitisers known to have 60-70% alcohol as the recommended content.
Normally, States determine their own sales policy including taxes and prices but Disaster Management Act 2005 applicable to all the States, brought all States under one common law and thus the Central government had to give the go ahead even though a few States had been inclined to allow opening the shops and in fact, even allowed only to have to shut down after a day or two because of strong opposition from the Central government. One State had even been asked to shut down by the High Court as it was not considered as an essential item.
With the stocks of wine lying locked in the shop for over a month, with the summer temperature of up to 40⁰ C, it is expected that the wines would not be in top conditions but wine drinkers are hardly in a position to complain. Also, there might be some initial hiccups for the supply chain to get operational but the decision has been welcome by alcohol consumers and retailers alike and they hope that after this segment of Lockdown is over on May 17, the better stocked wine shops in Malls and shopping complex might also be allowed to open.
It is implicit that social distance will be maintained and there will not be an unusual increase in number of cases of Covid 2, making the government change course mid-way.
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