Dec 30: It appears that Delhi has seen the worst of regressive liquor excise policies with a Committee formed by Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia in September this year making practical recommendations to make the procedure simpler and increase the depleting tax revenues, writes Subhash Arora who feels that the nadir has been now reached where people are happier buying their requirement of wine and liquor from the nearby States which have streamlined their policies
The best thing that the Delhi Excise Department ever did for wine and beer for the residents was to allow department stores to sell wine and beer, bringing a boom in sale and advancing the culture through education. The parameters were strictly defined. Nature’s Basket in the posh area of Defence Colony could not get the excise license transferred when they shifted the premises within the locality to a bigger, more upmarket zone. Eventually, they dropped the idea of selling the ‘soft liquor’ in Delhi and shifted their focus to Mumbai and Bangalore where they have been very successful.
One of the worst things that the Delhi Excise Department ever did for wine and beer for the residents was in 2019 when the Deputy Chief Minister, Manish Sisodia instantly suspended the licences of 48 department stores after a personal visit to one in Karol Bagh where he noticed several violations. This was followed by the cancellation and refund of excise license fees paid by all the department stores.
Also Read : Delhi Excise cancels all L-12 Licenses for Department Stores*
This has been the biggest blow to wine culture and a big blot in the AAP government for being arbitrary and authoritarian. However, Sisodia might have a change of heart or taken correct advice-politically and practically, when he appointed a Committee in September 2020, after the greed that made the AAP government enforce an arbitrary 75% of MRP as cess on all alcoholic products. With the neighbouring Haryana and UP having more sensible policies, it was a matter of time when they developed their own channel and in any case with legal possibility of carrying 2 bottles by car, everyone was happy including the Delhi Government because they had perhaps inched a step closer to following Article 47 of the Constitution which exhorts the State to enforce prohibition.
Also Read : Delhi Excise suspends Licenses of all 124 Department Stores*
There was one minor problem though- the tax revenues started dwindling. Alcohol is the biggest contributor to taxes in India and Delhi is no exception In September 2020, Deputy CM Manish Sisodia had constituted a committee under the stewardship of the Excise Commissioner to come up with suggestions to increase tax revenues and recommend ways to simplify the procedures and stop tax leakages. Here are a few of the recommendations:
1. Reduce the legal age from 25 to 21 years, making it same as in Haryana and UP.
2. Allow again the sale of wine and beer in the Department Stores
3. Bring the Dry Days to only 3- January 26, August 15 and October 2
4. Have a more equitable distribution of vends in the city to have 3 vends in each of the 272 Municipal wards besides 24 in the NDMC zone and 6 at the IGI Airport.
Reducing the age to 21 is a first step to give the adults an open opportunity to indulge in their vices. Smoking is much worse and yet, 18 year olds can buy them legally. They can even vote at that age! The girls can even get married at 18. DelWine feels that wine is a food product and should be allowed to be served in the company of their parents to even 16 year olds. But practically speaking, it should be brought down to 21 and later 18 can be considered to ensure there is no law and order problem.
Also Read : 44 Shops sealed by Excise still not allowed to Commence Business
Department Stores were a boon to wine and beer sales. One cannot but stress that the department has enforce strict compliance of the rules- the example of Nature’s Basket has not been forgotten yet. A regular inspection of the licensees needs to be carried out and the defaulters punished.
It is also an excellent idea to reduce the number of dry days- though Republic Day and Independence Day are days of celebration. In most other countries people rejoice and party on those days. October 2 is Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday and it is a mark of respect that is shown to the pro-prohibition Mahatma which can carry on.
An even distribution of vends is a matter of administrative reform. If the density of the population is taken into consideration, it might be wise to tweak a bit and not be too rigid. However, it is implicit that the 145 Department stores would not be considered as vends. In any case, they sell only beer and wine and that helps women to shop for them along with other food products.
Also Read : Delhi Excise Policy 2019-2020 announced with few Changes
The Department proposes to soon bring the recommendation to the public by posting them on a public platform for 24 days where Delhi-ites and those in wine business can post their comments. The final proposal will then be put to the Delhi Cabinet and their approved plan will form a part of the next excise policy of 2021-22.
One hopes that the above proposals would be approved and also the policy will be announced by March 2021 like most states do it in India. Delhi government is notorious for extending it to as late as September, thus resulting in uncertainly and loss of revenues to the government and ulcers to the traders and producers/ importers alike.
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