NEW DELHI :
The government, on Friday, moved to permit opening up of liquor shops in designated green and orange zones in the country with effect from May 04, apart from allowing resumption of liquor sales in rural areas—albeit consumers maintain strict social distancing measures in these stores.
The announcement was part of a further two-week extension to the ongoing lockdown announced by the central government on Friday—which will come in to effect from May 04.
Only five people will be allowed at a given time in a liquor store, the MHA said in its lockdown extension guidelines. “Shops selling liquor, paan, gutka, tobacco etc will ensure minimum six feet distance from each other, and also ensure that not more than 5 persons are present at one time in the shop,” the MHA said in its updated guidelines on Friday evening as it moved to extend the lockdown by another two weeks.
International Spirits & Wines Association of India (ISWAI), the apex industry body that represents several large alcohol companies in India such as Diageo, Pernod Ricard, Moet Hennessy, Beam Suntory, Bacardi, etc, said it will work with local state governments to ensure social distancing measures are adhered in liquor stores. “Safe shied is a program we will be running in along with state excise departments to ensure social distancing measures in stores,” Amrit Kiran Singh, executive chairman, ISWAI told Mint. The measures will ensure that shoppers and workers wear masks and gloves, and that stores are regulary sanitized, said Singh. “We are aware that Covid-19 will not go away anytime soon, so we are ensuring social distancing and hygiene in stores,” he added.
Singh said the industry body is also making representations to state governments to allow home delivery, and e-retailing of alcoholic beverages. “Also for this to be successful we are working to reduce the load on the stores by arranging for home delivery through Zomato, Swiggy,” he said.
However, it remains to be seen whether liquor shops in non-containment areas falling within “red zones” can sell alcohol as the government moved to permit standalone (single) shops in urban areas, neighborhood (colony) shops and shops in residential complexes to remain open.
It said that such shops can remain open “without any distinction of essential and non-essential.”
The move comes as several large alcoholic beverage companies and industry bodies have made representations to central and state governments, seeking resumption of alcohol sales through liquor shops in the country. The sector that provides jobs to millions, contributes roughly Rs2.5 lakh crore in annual taxes earned by states by sale of alcoholic beverages.
India is among the world’s largest consumers of alcohol, with whiskey being the drink of choice for the country’s tipplers.
Industry experts have argued that in a situation where the government is dealing with a global pandemic that has huge economic implications on the country’s finances, partial opening up of the industry could help boost state revenues.
The Union government’s announcement of an extension comes in the wake of considerable relaxations being introduced by the Union home ministry in non-containment zones across the country. The ministry issued fresh set of guidelines “based on the risk profiling of the districts of the country into Red (hotspot), Green and Orange Zones. The guidelines have permitted considerable relaxations in the districts falling in the Green and Orange Zones.”