Delhi government's new excise policy evokes mixed reactions
While many welcomed the revised policy, others expressed concern about the stringent rules and said that reduced legal age for drinking would promote alcoholism among students.
Delhi govt recently replaced 2009 excise policy with a new one, lowering the minimum age for drinking from 25 to 21. It also decided to shut all govt-run vends. While many bars & restaurant welcomed the changes, Opposition raised concern that reduced legal age would promote alcoholism among youngsters, reports Siddhanta Mishra
The Delhi government’s approval of the new excise policy, announcing a series of changes focused on the sale and consumption of liquor, including lowering the legal drinking age from 25 to 21, has evoked mixed reactions from restaurant, bar and liquor shop owners in the city.
While many welcomed the revised policy, others expressed concern about the stringent rules and said that reduced legal age for drinking would promote alcoholism among students. After working on the proposal for months and taking feedbacks from the people of Delhi, the AAP government on March 22 cleared the policy, with Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia claiming that the new policy will help clampdown on liquor mafia operating in the national capital. According to the policy, no new liquor shops will be opened in Delhi and the government will not run any vend.
The move is expected to lead to annual revenue growth of 20 per cent. A report prepared by a panel also suggested discontinuing whisky and rum with MRP up to `140, and increase the criteria for liquor brands to get registered in Delhi. Many liquor shop owners, however, have expressed their confusions over the new excise policy and say the new conditions mean that only large players in the sector would be able to register and sell in the market.
“There is a lot of uncertainty regarding the new rules. That will only happen when the government issues the final order with the changes. However, the impact is already being seen. We have started facing a lot of problems with the supply of liquor. Branded liquor owners in Delhi have stopped supplying their products on credit and are demanding cash upfront, which was not the case earlier,” says Karun Gupta, manager of a liquor shop at Galleria Mall in Mayur Vihar.
By bringing down the legal drinking age to 21, the main purpose, the government says, is to prevent the underage residents of the national capital from going to neighbouring NCR cities to quench their thirst for alcohol. Sisodia said the new rules under the revised excise policy will make sure that those under the age of 21 years cannot have access to the establishments that serve liquor.
This means underage youths would not be allowed inside the restaurants where liquor is served if they are alone or in a group of under-21. Under the policy, the international concept of ‘age gating’ will be introduced to ensure that there is no underage drinking in Delhi and the SOP will be made along with the industry. “The government has done this keeping in mind tapping their revenues. But I am against the decision of lowering the legal drinking age, even though it would help the government generate good revenue,” says Gupta.
Akshay Anand, co-founder of Ophelia restaurant in Chanakyapuri, however, welcome the changes, saying they are “progressive” and in line with current times and existing reality. “The new excise policy will benefit the restaurant and hotel industry. The unified licensing and simplification of getting new and renewing existing licences will be a great relief for restaurants and bars and make the otherwise cumbersome process a lot easier for us. I strongly welcome the decision,” Anand says.
Last year, the excise department had constituted an expert committee to change the excise policy of Delhi. After the committee submitted its report, it was put in the public domain and then, the government asked for public suggestions on the matter. After receiving 14,00,700 feedbacks, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal constituted a group of ministers (GoM) to study the report, public suggestions and other factors. The CM had directed the GoM to put forward the suggestions after studying every aspect thoroughly.
Later, these ideas were submitted to the cabinet, which approved them. To make drinking more ‘dignified’, the government plans to rework the infrastructural requirements for a liquor store. According to the new rules, any liquor shop should be of a minimum of 500 feet. These shops will not have any counter facing towards the road. Liquor sale and pick-up will only take place inside the shop and nothing will take place outside the store. The owners will have to ensure law and order outside their shops. If needed, they can take the help of police or CCTV camera or security guards.
Drinking outside the shop is one of the several complaints the government has been receiving from the public, especially women. In Delhi, more than 60 per cent of liquor shops are run by the government. Yet, 40 per cent of the liquor shops, run by private players generate more revenue than the government-owned stores. Therefore, it has been decided that the government will exit from the liquor retail business and auction their shops to private players.
“At our establishment, we have always strictly followed the guidelines of legal drinking age. Whenever we notice an underage person at the bar, we politely ask for his or her identity proof. We have the best policies in place across the industry,” says Sourabh Chandana, food and beverage manager at Hilton Garden Inn at DLF Mall in Saket. “We welcome the latest government move because now, we will be able to serve liquor to the customers who are 21 years old and above and help our business grow,” adds Chandana.
Kanishk Tuteja, founder of We Qutub and Nukkad Cafe and Bar, says the move is going to simplify things for restaurants. “The age gating rule is going to help us grow as we will have new-age groups. Currently, we refuse to entertain the under-21 customers. They mostly turn up to the bar in large numbers on weekends. With the new changes coming into effect most likely in 2-3 months, we hope to earn better now,” Tuteja says. Priyank Sukhija, founder of First Fiddle Restaurants that own brands like Plum by Bentchair, says: “It’s too early to pass an opinion on the policy, but the unified licensing will make a lot of our steps easier. Still, a lot of clarity is awaited. Overall, this looks a good move.”
In a bid to evenly distribute the sale of liquor, the government plans to divide Delhi’s liquor retail trade into 32 zones. It intends to end the system of collecting licence fees separately for each store and instead, plans to collect an upfront licence fee based on the 32 new zones created. For a long, the excise department has been working to stop the sale of illegal liquor in Delhi. In the last two years, it has recovered around 7,09,000 bottles of illegal liquor and filed 1,864 FIRs against the illegal liquor trade, arrested 1,939 people in relations to the illegal liquor trade, seized over 1,000 vehicles in connection with the illegal trade. Sources say over 2,000 liquor shops are run by liquor mafias in the national capital. “To stop all these irregularities and defeat the liquor mafia, we have come up with this new excise policy,” Sisodia had while announcing the changes last month.
The changes in the policy, however, have not gone down well the Opposition, with the Congress and the BJP demanding rollback of the policy. Recently, a delegation met Lieutenant Governor Anil
Baijal and demanded that the policy should be scrapped. The BJP alleged that the government was “pushing youths towards alcoholism to increase revenue”.Congress leader and former AAP MLA Alka Lamba said the new excise policy will not only ruin the lives of the youths but many families as well.
Stores in the city
850 total registered liquor shops in Delhi
37 wards have more than 3 liquor shops
54 wards have more than 10 shops
79 of total 272 wards have 0 liquor shops
45 wards have just 1 shop
189 The maximum revenue comes from these shops in 46 wards
60% out of 850 stores are run by government
58% of Delhi is either unserved or underserved
8% area of Delhi is normally served
50% of liquor shops are present in just 45 wards
1,500-2,000 cr Government plans to increase its annual revenue through the new policy
Rs 6,574 cr Delhi currently earns each year through excise revenue
32 zones to be created
to evenly distribute sale of liquor
Lowered from 25 to 21 in Delhi
New York allows those above 21 to consume liquor, while London has a permissible age limit at 18