The Centre on Friday allowed the sale of liquor in standalone wine stores as well as the sale of paan/gutkha and other tobacco products across the country from May 4 except in Covid-19 containment zones.
The government has categorized all 733 districts across the country in three zones – red (hotspots), orange (having a limited number of Covid-19 cases) and green (no cases).
There are, however, strict social distancing norms in place. People going to such stores/shops will have to maintain at least six feet distance from each other and ensure that not more than five persons are present at a shop at any given time. Spitting in public places will be punishable.
Liquor and paan shops inside malls or marketplaces are not allowed to operate yet. Containment zones are those areas in red and orange zones that have been sealed due to a high number of Covid-19 infections. Only essential activities are permitted in these areas.
The government order on lockdown on Friday stated that any person violating the lockdown measures or directives could be prosecuted under the Disaster Management Act and the Indian Penal Code.
The government had prohibited sale of liquor and paan/gutkha since March 24, when the first phase of lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Since then, several states including Kerala, West Bengal and Punjab had repeatedly urged the central government to lift the ban on sale of liquor citing depletion of state revenues. Liquor is one of the major contributors to states’ coffers.
The International Spirits and Wines Association of India (ISWAI), which has Diageo India, Pernod Ricard, Beam Suntory, Bacardi and others as members, had asked the union consumer affairs ministry to allow shops to sell the alcoholic beverages for some hours during the day.
Another body, the Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverages Companies (CIABC), had also asked the government to allow sale of liquor citing huge losses.
ISWAI chairman Amrit Kiran Singh told Hindustan Times, “We have committed to the government that social distancing will be maintained at the liquor vends. As soon as the latest guidelines come into force, we will begin a programme called ‘Safe Shield’ under which signs will be put outside all shops about social distancing, sanitisers would be placed, there will be ‘contactless’ sales through trays kept at the counter.”
Singh added that the second phase of ‘Safe Shield’ is to use services of online delivery platforms like Swiggy and Zomato for delivery of bottles for which, he said, ISWAI is trying to convince the state governments.
“This will release the load off the retail stores”.
75% percent of India’s liquor market size is in retail while 25% is in bar sales, which stands prohibited. Last year, liquor sales brought in Rs 2.84 lakh crore revenue to state governments, according to Singh.
“Covid-19 is going to stay for some time so we have to institutionalize ‘Safe Shield’ and home delivery measures into liquor retail sales. If we do this properly, 75% of revenue to states can come back,” he added.
A senior home ministry official, who didn’t want to be named, explained on Friday that “the decision to reopen standalone liquor stores across all three zones has been taken as part of resuming economic activity which is directly linked to the revenues of the states. The state governments are free to decide where they want to open the liquor stores/paan shops”.