The Kejriwal led Delhi Government made an announcement today that the old excise policy for Delhi is being extended for further six months. In the interim the government is working on the new excise policy that has been in the news in recent times, following the recommendations made by LG VK Saxena after the CBI probe into the alleged irregularities in its implementation.
The extension also marks as a blow to the Delhi private players who were looking to keep their shops open having invested heavily in procuring licenses. For the consumer this also means that the offers made by private players have also disappeared since the old policy uses government-run liquor vendors.
The former Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi was recently arrested alleging the irregularities in the new policy, which was believed to be favouring certain players. The ED in their case also stated that kickbacks were provided by the players to the government, which lead to the dismissal of 11 excise officials as well following the probe.
It is believed that Delhi was looking to compete with Haryana with its new policy offering lucrative discounts to the consumers, who often prefer liquor shops in Gurugram, since they offer massive discounts as opposed to most states in India.
• Delhi government discontinues Excise Policy 2021-22 from August 1, 2022
• 468 private liquor shops operating in the city, shut from August 1 as licenses expire on July 31
• Mad rush at liquor vends as supply chain affected
It is a massive political battle out in the National capital between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the casualty has been the liquor industry. While the battle rages on, there is short supply of liquor and with private vends closing down, there is mad rush for liquor of whatever that is left.
As such Delhi was experiencing short supply of liquor for some months now, but the government did not really pull up its socks.
While the situation was such, came another shocker for the AAP government when its Chief Secretary on July 8 reported that there has been ‘deliberate and gross procedural lapses to provide post tender undue benefits to liquor licensees for the year 2021-22’. The Chief Secretary’s report also pointed out to prima facie violations of GNCTD Act 1991, Transaction of Business Rules 1993, Delhi Excise Act-2009 and Delhi Excise Rules – 2010.
Based on the Chief Secretary’s letter and the corruption murmur in the capital, the Delhi Lieutenant Governor, Vinai Kumar Saxena recommended a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Alcobev industry at its wits end
The alcobev industry which had hailed the Delhi Government’s new Excise Policy 2021-22 is at its wits end with the political battle going on. Many industry experts had hailed the policy but had complained that implementation was the stumbling block.
AAP blames BJP for the crisis
However, the Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi, Manish Sisodia in a press conference has put all the blame on the BJP for the excise crisis, stating that private vendors were threatened by the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI, forcing them to shut shop. The BJP, on the other hand, has alleged that the Delhi Government had doled out licenses to private vendors on a quid-pro-quo basis, charging AAP of large scale corruption. The two parties are leveling charges against each other while the alcobev sector and the end-consumer has to bear it all.
Government vends would be revived: Sisodia
Manish Sisodia said that the government vends would be back from August 1 as private vends were ‘scared’ to venture into this business. The number of government vends, would not exceed 850. Stating that there was an orchestrated campaign by the BJP to fail the new excise policy, he said only 468 shops were running and that number would further reduce drastically from August 1. “Their (BJP) plan is to stop legal sale of liquor and promote illegal sale of liquor in which the BJP has stake of thousands of crores of rupees,” he said and referred to the Gujarat model where there is prohibition, but illegal liquor trade is strong, leading to illicit liquor, consequently to hooch tragedies.
Citing that the AAP government had planned it’s vends to cater to the population without exceeding the number of vends from 850, he cited how in BJP-ruled States the number of vends was higher, thus encouraging liquor trade, both legal and illegal. There was one outlet for over 4,000 people in Gurugram; one for over 12,000 people in Bangalore; one for over 700 people in Goa, while in Delhi it was one outlet for over 22,000 people.
Another reason for the BJP to derail the Delhi policy, he said was as the former feared that the state revenue would jump from `6000 crore to `9,500 crore which would mean the success of the new policy.
BJP holds Sisodia responsible
Meanwhile, the BJP has upped its ante charging the AAP led government of corruption to which the Delhi Chief Minister has termed it as ‘false and that the BJP was afraid of AAP’s growth’. The BJP said the Excise Department, which is headed by Sisodia, reportedly gave a waiver of `144.36 crore to the licensees on the tendered license fee citing pandemic as an excuse.
Policy was to give enriching customer experience, now going back to government vends
The 2021 policy was to pave the way for a range of sweeping reforms to boost excise revenue, crack down on the liquor mafia and to improve customer experience. The Government wanted to provide a ‘decent standard of customer experience commensurate to the stature of the National Capital’ and one of the most noticeable changes was abolishing the iron grills in front of the shops. The policy amendment also allowed for online sales in sync with the ‘new normal’. There is no mention of what would happen to online sales, considering that the supply chain itself is adversely affected.
Framework for grant of licenses
The process of granting of the license was to ensure equitable coverage so that there is no instance of un-served and underserved areas in Delhi including Non-Conforming Areas. The number of retail liquor vends had been limited to 849, including five super premium retail vends, but absolutely no Government owned liquor vends for IMFL/FL.
The policy had ended on May 31 but extended by two months offering the retail licensees chance to renew their licenses paying fees on the pro rata basis for the extra period. However, many license holders did not opt for the extension and shut shops as they were already finding it difficult to reach break even after paying high license fees, some liquor traders have claimed.
Then there was the issue of some retailers giving massive discounts up to 40% to consumers while some big players offered ‘buy one, get one free’ schemes. The government intervened and capped the discount at 25%, but some retail shops went beyond that, some in the trade have complained.
Excise policy extant vs Delhi Master Plan rules
Under the excise policy extant, each licensee had to open three stores in each municipal ward. However, out of 272 municipal wards, 100 were non-conforming where the shops could not open due to action by civic bodies against violations of Delhi Master Plan rules, officials said thus leading to inadequate liquor stores.
CIABC hopes the policy will be tweaked
As mentioned there were many good features in the policy but the government failed to implement. The Director General of the Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies (CIABC), Mr. Vinod Giri has said that the industry had taken up the matter with the Delhi Government to reduce the size of the zones as to make the trade viable. He said by doing that it would have reduced the financial stake of licensees, improved loss bearing capacity and prevented monopolies. He attributed the failure of the policy to bureaucratic apathy towards trade, while the policy per se was good, befitting a modern metropolis such as Delhi. He was hopeful that the policy would be tweaked, but right now the political din has taken over.
There have been many such niggling issues that the Delhi Government did not iron out, while it kept patting itself on its back that it had come up with a ‘great policy’ that eliminated corruption and sale of seconds liquor. But the reality on the ground has been different, where actions did not match the words the AAP government kept bandying about. The capital is going to be mired with this controversy for some time now. The alcobev sector awaits new directives, till then the end consumer will have to find ways to quench his or her thirst.
The newly formed Punjab government of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is contemplating upon allotting liquor vends through a tender system in its bid to shore up revenues from excise. However, the traders are not open to this idea and want continuation of draw of lots. In Delhi where AAP has been ruling the new excise policy has been welcomed not just by the industry, but also consumers. The Minister of Finance, Harpal Singh Cheema has directed officials to study excise policies of other states and plans to roll out the policy soon. Punjab is likely to pick up inputs from Delhi and other states before it announces a new excise policy for 2022-23 sometime in June to be effective from July 1. The excise department has already initiated informal discussions with the trade to understand their requirements while boosting the exchequer.
Like many states, Punjab’s major source of revenue is from excise. It has estimated the revenues for the current financial year at ₹7,002 crores, with an increase of 20% from ₹5,794 crores of 2020-21. According to media reports, the excise department has already achieved the revenue target for 2021-22.
In end March, the AAP government renewed the 2021-22 policy for a period of three months to those existing licensees who will give 1.75% excess revenue over minimum guaranteed revenue (MGR) of financial year 2021-22 for their respective groups and zones in order to maintain stability in the liquor trade. The minimum guaranteed revenue of groups and zones is estimated at ₹1,440.96 crores for this three month window and the revenue target is expected to be ₹1,910 crores.
The MGQ of Punjab made liquor (PML) called desi, Indian made foreign liquor (IMFL), beer and imported foreign liquor (IFL) of each group and zone has been increased by 10% of the corresponding first quarter of last financial year of the respective group and zone. Further, to allow retail licensees to lift liquor as per their requirement, the amount of additional fixed license fee has also been increased. The ratio of fixed and open quota of PML shall be 30:70 as was prevalent during financial year 2021-22.
It may be mentioned here that the government of Capt. Amarinder Singh had allotted vends through a draw of lots till 2019-20 and in the last two years it extended the trade licenses of those who guaranteed generating 12% excess revenue over the fixed minimum guaranteed revenue. It is learnt that the government is planning to increase the reserve price and license fee of liquor vends and also to increase the size of the group up to ₹20 crore, having 7 to 10 vends.
The government is on a mission mode to fill the coffers. The Finance Minister is on record stating that despite high liquor consumption in the state, it has been able to generate enough for the exchequer. “This is our mission now. We have to fill the coffers.” While lauding the Delhi excise policy, the Minister talked about basic difference between liquor consumers in Delhi and Punjab. “While Delhi consumes Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL), Punjabis consume Punjab Medium Liquor (PML). We will have to work out our policy taking into consideration all these points.”
AAP national convenor and Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal had stated during the run up to the election that the AAP government would look at liquor and sand for generating funds.