Glass half full: Liquor shortage in Delhi likely despite extension


Despite the Delhi government’s late-evening decision on Saturday to extend the existing 2021-22 excise policy by a month to prevent the Capital scrambling for a bottle from Monday, traders in the city said there are still likely to be widespread gaps in the availability of liquor in the coming days, with vendors and stores unlikely to place fresh bulk orders just to see the month out.

Officials aware of the matter said chief secretary Naresh Kumar held discussions late on Saturday with the excise department, deputy CM and excise minister Manish Sisodia and the Lieutenant Governor’s office and decided to extend the 2021-22 policy by a month to stop all stores downing their shutters, even as Sisodia earlier in the day announced that the city would revert to its previous liquor regime, with only the state government re-entering the liquor business and start running vends of their own.

The 2021-22 excise policy expires on July 31 (Sunday), and will not be renewed, Sisodia said on Saturday afternoon, announcing that only vends operated by the state government will function till a new regime is announced and approved. However, the state government exited the liquor business on September 30 last year and has no shops of its own in the city, which means Delhi would likely go dry at least till the government could set up its own vends.

The unavailability of liquor in Delhi for a few days or weeks would also mean that sales in neighbouring Gurugram and Noida will pick up, as the Capital’s residents will be bound to buy their bottles from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Gurugram is already an attractive destination of liquor buyers in Delhi, with stores open even after 10pm and heavy discounts on offer.

A store manager said it will take at least a day of two for formalities to be completed to facilitate the month-long extension.

“The first thing vendors will have to do is make an advance payment for the month. That itself takes a day because the excise department only accepts demand drafts which has to be physically submitted,” the vendor said.

Immediately after Sisodia’s announcement, liquor shops on Saturday started clearing stocks, with some stores offering flat ‘buy one, get one free’ offers on premium brands as well.

“We had stopped ordering more stocks as we had a hunch that we may not get an extension this time. So, now we are only clearing whatever stocks we had in our storehouses. Shops will be open maximum till 10pm on Sunday and from Monday, our shutters will remain down, unless a new notification or order comes allowing us to operate,” said a store manager of a liquor shop in Kingsway Camp.

A second vendor criticised the government for being “indecisive”.

“Us businesspeople are suffering due to the politics and indecisiveness of leaderships at various levels in Delhi. Neither the government nor the LG acts on time. Everybody is doing what they want at the last minute to score over one another. In the end, even late on Saturday evening, we have no idea whether to permanently shut our shops or to prepare for stocks for the coming weeks. There is no official communication about anything,” said the owner requesting anonymity.

There are also going to be procedural delays as this decision has not yet been approved by the Delhi cabinet, after which the file will be sent to Delhi LG VK Saxena, who last week recommended a CBI probe against the 2021-22 excise policy, alleging corruption in the liquor regime.

As of 6pm on Saturday, the file pertaining to opening only government liquor vends in Delhi had moved from the chief secretary to the deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia. Now, the latest decision will have to be formally communicated by the CS to Sisodia. After Sisodia’s signature, it is to be sent to CM Arvind Kejriwal and then a 48-hour notice is to be given to all stakeholders to set up a Cabinet meeting where the decision will have to be approved and then forwarded to the LG.

Meanwhile, even the first few government-run shops will take at least a few days to open. The situation in the coming months is likely to be a hark back to the period between October 1 and November 16, 2021 when only 260 liquor vends in Delhi were operational. A key difference, however, is that at that time, 260 liquor vends in the city were open, all of which were run by private players.

Further, state government and administration officials said they were unsure how soon they will be able to find spaces for the stores, gather staff and order adequate liquor stock, processes that take weeks.

Another fallout of the government running liquor shops is likely to be the end of discounts. As of now, discounts up to 25% were allowed in Delhi under the new policy, which came into effect from November 17 last year. Besides, new variants of liquor being sold in tetra packs are also likely to be affected as the excise policy which permitted these products has in itself been scrapped. Like in the old excise regime, the state government will decide liquor prices, which manufacturers and retail vendors will have to abide by.

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