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Delhi Wine Club
‘Salute’ to the Delhi Excise Department

Posted: Tuesday, 25 June 2013 10:52

‘Salute’ to the Delhi Excise Department

June 25: Thanks to the computerized system the Delhi Excise insisted on pursuing during the last 4 months the operations in Delhi have become so streamlined that the label registration and renewal of excise license for this year has been done in a week compared to the 6-8 weeks that it took during the earlier years, resulting in sales-loss free months of June-July this year for the importers and restaurants and we‘d like to raise a glass of wine to the folks at the Excise and say, ‘Salute’, writes Subhash Arora

For the first time in recent history, despite the late announcement of the unchanged excise policy in end-May, the licensees were able to get the license within a week of application and a wide survey suggests that no one applying on time (before June 15) lost any business this year due to the delays in getting the license. The business is running smoother than usual and despite a relatively short trial positive results are visible and this augers well for the wine industry insofar as the procedural complications are concerned.

When the Delhi excise department made it mandatory in February this year for importers, producers, restaurant owners, retailers and all liquor excise license holders in Delhi, everyone was up in arms against the order. DelWine had then said that though the excise department was right in its stern action the timing is perhaps inappropriate. It gives us no pleasure to say that delWine was proven correct once again - people lost a significant amount of business during the peak months of February and March. Excise department lost revenues but that was nobody’s personal loss.

In all fairness, the importers were not strictly opposed to the executive order per se. They rued the poor software with no tech support, a severe opposition by the hotels and restaurants, who were not only obliged to buy the equipment required for bar-coding and online order placement, but also had to deposit the excise duties. Spoilt by the importers who were being coerced to give the credit even for the excise duties, restaurants simply refused to budge.

Excise department didn’t budge either: No online placement and no bar coding - no supplies. There was a bloodbath in which the importers got badly hurt and the restaurant perhaps lost some sales too. But in the end the result is much better.

Not that the importers haven’s lost business with the online system. Amit Aggarwal of Hema Connoisseurs says that he has lost about 30% of the business for these months this year but he is quite happy and relaxed. ‘For one thing we don’t have to deposit the excise money now. For the same reason, the hotels and restaurateurs have become cautious in ordering and they place smaller orders.’

‘This is not a bad thing,’ says Debjit Das Gupta, Secretary of the ineffective Delhi Foreign Liquor Association. ‘We have lost about 25% business at Ace Beveragez but the sales are now all genuine. The restaurants have to punch in the order and pay the excise duties online. So they are cautious,’ he says while conceding that the procedure is fantastic.

Agreeing that the system is good, Rohit Mehra of Mohan Bros. says,’ this has created a new problem for us. People have become so cautious that they order 2 bottles of this and 1 bottle of that and wait till replenishment, since the time for delivery has been shortened to one day from what used to be between a week or two.’ He proposes to keep a minimum order size for deliveries since the logistics for delivery are expensive and traffic consuming. He also claims that he is always under the threat of losing business as some customers use it as pressure tactics to force them to advance money for excise deposit which they do not succumb to. Apparently there are some importers who are following this shameful policy and the game of blaming and counter blaming goes on.

Not every restaurant is unethically using these tactics. Chef/owner Nira Singh who owns a boutique restaurant Chez Nini has a small wine list but the prices are reasonable and she is determined to make it a wine destination. ‘Our European cuisine is best enjoyed with wine and since I am passionate about wines, I believe in pricing the wines at reasonable price. I am so happy with the new system. We place the order one day and next day we get the wines! This was unheard of before. The vendor would keep on promising the delivery with no stock in hand or would deliver excesses and shortages and that used to put us under a lot of stress.’

Most of the professionally run 5-star hotels have reconciled to the change. Tarun Seth, F& B Director of Claridges Hotel, one of the wine-progressive hotels says, ‘we were not initially happy with the change but when we know we have to follow a system, why not. It has given a better control over inventories as well.’

It’s not that the whole credit should be given to the excise department for the changeover. ‘This has been the announced policy of the Chief Minister’s office. VAT and Property taxes have already been online in Delhi for a few years. So excise had to follow,’ says Debjit.

But before the Excise department pops the bottles of Champagne, Prosecco or an Indian Brut bubbly, they should remember that they have been unfair once again this year by forcing the licensees to pay the pro-rate registration charges for labels and the excise license which at Rs.600,000/year is not a small change. Importers have been forced to shell out Rs.125, 000 for 2.5 months from April-June 15 and proportionate registration charges of Rs.417 a label at Rs.5, 000 a year. This is not only arm twisting and perhaps illegal but no one is willing to bell the cat. So the game goes on merrily for yet another year.

One hopes that as time goes by, people will start noticing the positives in the excise procedures and one day it might actually follow the system in Karnataka which is efficient and has minimal chances of corruption and is running smoothly-at least from the perspective of the importers and consumers.

This will augur well for the health of the excise department. Therefore, let’s pick up that glass of Prosecco and say ‘Salute’ to the excise department and drink to the health of the department and its people-till the next time their actions warrants another toast.

Subhash Arora


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