• 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.