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Delhi new excise policy lowers drinking age to 21, only 3 dry days

The Delhi Government on March 22, 2021 came out with a new excise policy which is expected to bring about radical changes in the sale and consumption of liquor in the national capital. The headline grabbing announcement has been the government’s decision to lower the drinking age from 25 to 21; keeping bars and pubs open till 3 a.m and bringing down the number of dry days from 21 to 3, all of which are expected to shore up excise revenues from `5,068.7 crores to `7,651 crores.

The government’s decision to rework the policy was necessary as the 2009 excise policy seemed outdated and the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) had taken away a chunk from the state government’s excise kitty.

The Delhi Deputy Chief Minister, Manish Sisodia said another important decision taken is that the Delhi government will not run any liquor outlet. Presently, about 40% of the 850 odd outlets in the capital are privately run, the remaining by government. The state-run outlets were indulging in ‘brand pushing’ and there was pilferage in revenues, thus affecting the coffers. This year, the government will also not give licence for opening any new liquor retail outlets, while it will shut down those which are running without licence.

2,000 illegal outlets in the capital

The Deputy Chief Minister said the liquor mafia needed to be checked and mentioned that while the government had approved 850 liquor stores, the liquor mafia has been running about 2,000 illegal outlets and with impunity over the years. “In the last two years, over 7 lakh illegal liquor bottles have been seized, 1939 people arrested.” There was a skewed distribution network – 20% of the areas in the city are over-served, while 58% are under-served, giving room for the liquor mafia to rule.

Diageo welcomes progressive excise policy

The industry has welcomed the new policy. One of them to react first has been Diageo India’s Managing Director and CEO, Mr. Anand Kripalu, who said “Diageo India welcomes the progressive Excise Policy reforms announced by the Delhi Government yesterday. The new Excise Policy keeps the consumer at its heart, enabling their access to good quality brands in significantly safer and enhanced purchase and consumption environments. We welcome the many consumer-friendly measures including bringing the legal drinking age in Delhi at par with neighbouring states, introduction of “age-gating” at restaurant & bars, equitable geographic spread of retail outlets in the State and 100% private retail. The government’s mission to tackle the scourge of illicit liquor trade will ensure safety of citizens while minimising revenue losses of the government.”

New rules for liquor outlets

The new guidelines have factored in the size and location of liquor shops for equitable distribution in the city. The minimum space for an outlet now is 500 sq ft and that the windows of such stores should not face the road. “Most government-vend outlets had a jail-like environment and this would go.” It is the responsibility of the shop owner to ensure discipline and decorum in the premises of liquor shops, ensuring that no public drinking took place either inside or outside the liquor stores. Those below the age of 21 will not be allowed inside liquor stores.

The Delhi government had constituted a three-member panel led by the Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia with Kailash Gehlot and Satyendra Jain as members to formulate the new excise policy. The panel had made several sweeping recommendations, all of which have been adopted by the government.

The Group of Ministers committee suggested allocation of liquor vends through a lottery system whereas the liquor mafia has been lobbying to keep e-auction system where they could use money and muscle power. The recommendations of the committee included:

Registration of Brands

Whiskey – The committee suggested that brands selling below the retail price of `601 per bottle would be registered in Delhi only if the brand and its variants have sold a minimum of 1,00,000 (one lakh) cases each in minimum of five states excluding Delhi which have IMFL industry (Indian Made Foreign Liquor) higher than Delhi and a minimum of 10 lakh cases volume including CSD (Canteen Stores Department) in the previous year all over India, excluding Delhi. For brands with retail price of over `601 per bottle, no sales figures will be required for registration of the brand.

Rum/Vodka – The committee suggested that brands selling below the retail price of `501 per bottle would be registered in Delhi only if the brand and its variants have sold a minimum of 10,000 (ten thousand) cases each in a minimum of five states excluding Delhi which have IMFL industry (Indian Made Foreign Liquor) higher than Delhi and a minimum of 1 lakh cases volume including CSD (Canteen Stores Department) in the previous year all over India, excluding Delhi. For brands with a retail price of more than `501 per bottle, no sales figures will be required for registration of the brand.

Beer – Strong Beer – For Beer brands above 5% alcoholic strength and MRP up to `150 per bottle, would be registered in Delhi only if the brand and its variants have sold a minimum of 10,00,000 (Ten Lakh) cases including CSD, but excluding Delhi, all over India, with registration in at least 5 states.

Lager Beer – For Beer brands up to 5 percent alcoholic strength and MRP up to `150 per bottle, would be registered in Delhi only if the brand and its variants have sold a minimum of 5,00,000 (Five Lakh) cases including CSD, but excluding Delhi, all over India, with registration in at least 5 states. For all Beer brands with a retail price of over `150 per bottle, no sales figures will be required for registration of the brand.

Brandy and Gin – For these two products, no sales figure shall be required for registration of brands in Delhi.

This recommendation has been made keeping in view of the cheap brands being manufactured in Delhi’s neighbourhood, which are owned and supplied into Delhi by persons who are already having a number of liquor vends in the capital. Such cheap brands are sold to hapless consumers over the counter by the staff of the liquor vends, denying them quality products as the owner of the liquor vend earns more by selling his self-made product as compared to other quality products.

Steep hike in Licence Fee

The committee proposed raise of licence fee from `8,00,000 (Eight Lakhs) per year to `75,00,000 (Seventy-Five Lakhs) per year. On the other hand, to ensure that the vend owner does not suffer losses due to the steep hike in licence fee, the committee made another recommendation. Till now, the liquor vend owner used to get a profit of `50 to `100 per bottle but the committee has proposed a profit of 8% from the MRP of the product for the vend owner, which will ensure that the hike in licence fee, will compensate the vend owner.

Vend allocation system to be changed

The committee recommended discontinuation of the practise of auto-renewal of licences. Now vends are to be allotted by lottery and no individual would be allotted more than two vends. This has been done to do away with the existing monopoly and cartelisation in the system as at present, there are individuals holding as many as even twenty vends in Delhi

The committee recommended to raise the number of existing 720 liquor vends in Delhi to 916 for its population of about 2 crores. Mumbai has 1190 vends against a population of 1.23 crores and Bangalore has 1794 vends across a population of 1.93 crores.