March 22: As predicted by delWine last month the legal drinking age has been reduced from the existing 25 years to 21 in the new excise policy announced by the Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia who expects an increase of 20% in its excise revenues due to streamlining the distribution business, with the government deciding to move out of the retail shop business due to marked corruption, writes Subhash Arora
Announcing the new liquor policy and the reforms, Sisodia said no new liquor shops will be opened in Delhi and that the Delhi government will not run liquor stores but there will be equitable distribution of shops by closing shops where too many shops exist and opening them in areas where there is no distribution.
"The new excise policy was approved by the Cabinet today on the basis of the recommendations of the Group of Ministers. It was decided that no new liquor shops will be opened in the national capital and the government will not run any liquor shops. At present, 60 per cent liquor shops in Delhi are run by the government," Mr Sisodia said at a press conference. He hoped that the reforms will end the role of the liquor mafia in the city.
"In Delhi, 850 liquor stores have been authorized by the government. But liquor mafia runs 2,000 illegal stores, from houses, private shops and in street corners. In the last two years, more than 709,000 illegal liquor bottles have been seized and 1939 people arrested with 1014 vehicles impounded," he said, admitting that this was only the tip of the iceberg.
According to the new rules, liquor shops in Delhi will be allowed only if they have a minimum of 500 sq. ft. area and the serving windows of the shops must not face the roads. Currently there are shops areas as low as 150 sq. ft. and made like jails with people standing in lines outside the shop. The liquor will have to be sold from the counter within the shop and no one should be standing outside. He added that liquor rates will be as per market trends and the quality of liquor will be of international standards.
The expert committee had recommended the changes after taking opinion from public with 14,700 suggestions received and vetted. Sisodia admitted that the distribution system has been very unbalanced with some areas over-served while others are badly under-served. Illustrating through a chart he said that in the 272 wards of Delhi, 79 wards have no shops at all while 45 have only 1 shop.158 wards (58% of Delhi) are not properly served. Only 8% are properly served today while 54 wards, i.e., 20% of Delhi are over-served. This imbalance has created liquor mafia. Some Malls have even over 10 shops. In a recent visit to a couple of shops in the two Malls Galleria and The Star City Mall, delWine was shocked to find 16 shops-with a majority of the malls occupancy being liquor shops.
50% shops are in 45 wards. Due to this unequal serving, 50% revenue comes from 179 wards. This has resulted in leakage of revenues. ‘We have been trying to control it through 1864 FIR lodged. But we know this is only the tip of the iceberg,’ he conceded. Interestingly, he disclosed that though 60% of the shops were government owned, the revenues generated by the balance 40% was more. There was theft and corruption in the 60% shops, run by the government where Brand pushing was going on in a big way, as has been claimed by many producers for a long time.
The new policy is being made to tighten controls and wipe out the mafia. Equitable distribution will be handled with no new shops to be opened. In fact, no new shops have been opened in Delhi after 2016. It will be the shops’ responsibility to ensure no people drink outside the shop with monitoring done by CCTVs. Equitable distribution will ensure that criminals do not operate.
Age gating system will be introduced in bars and restaurants serving alcohol. This means that where alcohol is being served, nobody under the legal age will be permitted to enter. A common practice overseas, this will bring a relief to parents who are now always worried if the younger children are enticed to enter the bars and restaurants serving liquor.
Restaurants had pleaded that too many permissions required and rules were too complex and old- fashioned. In order to improve ‘Ease of doing business’-many such clauses have been merged or removed to make it easier for the honest restaurants to operate and work with dignity.
Non-duty paid liquor may not be sold anywhere and will be strictly controlled. Sisodia expressed that crime in Delhi should also come down because many of the illegal shops are being run by criminals. There has been 5% growth in average in the previous years but with these steps the revenue is expected to grow by 20%, he said in the Press Conference in Hindi.
Sisodia conceded that the government had believed the corruption and illegality was more in the border shops but it was found to be there as much in the interior also.
Also read : Retail: Wine and Liquor Store for Ladies only
The Deputy CM did not however, elaborate further in terms of policy on wines for which one would have to wait for a few more days when the new policy is notified. One really hopes that genuine department stores will be allowed again to sell wine and beer, to encourage consumption of low alcohol liquid.
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