Covid-19 lockdown: Liquor companies want shops to be reopened

New Delhi | Bengaluru: Diageo India, Pernod Ricard, Beam Suntory, Bacardi, Remy Martin and other liquor companies have jointly called upon the government to allow shops that sell alcoholic beverages to open for some time everyday after enforcing social distancing norms. Only essentials such as groceries and medicines are currently exempted under the Covid-19 lockdown.

The Indian Spirits & Wine Association of India (ISWAI), which represents India’s largest liquor makers, told the consumer affairs ministry that the suspension of alcohol sales is only helping the illegal trade. The letter, a copy of which ET has seen, was also addressed to the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) and Niti Aayog.

“Food is an essential commodity and alcohol is classified as food under the Food Safety & Standards Act of 2006,” said the letter signed by ISWAI chairman Amrit Kiran Singh. “The black market is operating in the vacuum created by legal alcohol retail shops being closed, which is becoming an additional menace for the police force.”

Bengal Allows Home Delivery

One state has relented — West Bengal will allow home delivery of alcoholic beverages.

“Till the lockdown period, liquor will be sold on home delivery basis from shops having valid liquor licences, and orders can be placed between 11 am to 2 pm,” said the West Bengal government notification. “Nobody can be allowed to come to liquor shop physically.”


Deliveries will be made to homes between 2 and 5 pm the same day. The liquor shops have to obtain passes for delivery staff from the police and other concerned authorities. Each store will get a maximum three passes.

The ISWAI said 15-30% of all state revenue comes from the alcohol sector, money that will be critical as the economy has come to a halt.

“Shuttering down liquor stores is self-defeating as state governments currently need revenue more than ever to fight the pandemic,” said Deepak Roy, executive vice chairman of Allied Blenders and Distillers (ABD), which makes Officer’s Choice whisky. “Second, piracy has doubled during shutdown as big brands are being copied and sold in smaller markets, which is not safe for consumption and impacts our brand value.”

Roy, also chairman of the Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies (CIABC), an apex body of Indian liquor firms, said a similar representation had been made on April 6.

“If the lockdown continues beyond April 14, ABD will lose an average of 8% of turnover per month,” he said. “The government must allow normal hours of operation for liquor stores to avoid overcrowding in these times of social distancing.”

The three-week lockdown is supposed to end on April 14, but it’s not clear whether it will be extended or in what form this may be done.

The CIABC had sent its plea to 10 states, asking them to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages during the lockdown. The letter highlighted concerns such as the growing sales of illicit liquor leading to health hazards and impact on state revenue besides permitting prescription-based alcohol. The letter was sent to the Delhi, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal governments.

Diageo India, Pernod Ricard, Bacardi and Beam Suntory had said last week that they were only making sanitisers at their plants, having stopped production of all alcoholic beverages.

“There are no specific negative implications of alcohol from a health perspective during coronavirus,” the ISWAI said, adding that bars and restaurants will stay closed.

Single malt whisky maker Amrut Distilleries managing director Rakshit Jagdale said partial opening of liquor stores with some policing would be a win-win for both the liquor industry and enforcement agencies. “If the lockdown continues beyond April 14, we are estimating a 15% reduction in our turnover for the month,” he said. “The Centre and state governments should sit together and discuss a plan as instant reopening of stores should not lead to overcrowding, resulting in another crisis.”

As of March 30, taxes earned by states from the alcoholic beverage sector in 2019-20 totalled Rs 2.5 lakh crore, according to ISWAI.

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