Inteha Ho Gayi… Intezaar Ki: Are Alcohol Shops Opening Anytime Soon?


Inteha Ho Gayi… Intezaar Ki: Are Alcohol Shops Opening Anytime Soon?

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

When the lockdown was announced middle-class and rich Indians went on a hoarding spree. However, there was one fairly essential item they haven’t been able stock up on – alcohol. Unfortunately for tipplers, liquor stores do not qualify as an essential business in the eyes of the government, so they have had to involuntarily abstain from drinking during the lockdown – or at least, from after their stocks at home ran out. In Maharashtra, drinkers got a glimmer of hope, when the state Health Minister Rajesh Tope said that liquor stores would be allowed to function if social distancing guidelines were followed. However, Tope’s statement, which was made on a Facebook Live video, did not receive any follow-up from the minister, and neither did the government issue a formal announcement after his remarks.

What Tope’s retraction of his comment has meant is that liquor shops in Maharashtra continue to remain closed, leading to increasing levels of thirst (no, not that kind) among the state’s drinking population. Raj Thackeray, chief of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and cousin of the state’s Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, wrote to the CM suggesting that the state’s authorities allow liquor shops to open so that revenue can be generated through excise duty. In his letter, Thackeray clarified that his suggestion was not for the benefit of “liquor lovers”, but solely for the purpose of generating revenue.

Even liquor manufacturers have been hit hard by the lockdown, as the closure of bars and restaurants along with liquor stores has seen sales of alcoholic beverages plummet. In Maharashtra, the state chapter of the Craft Brewers Association of India (CBAI) has issued a press statement requesting that the government allow them to sell directly to consumers, in order to help smaller brewers survive as well as contribute to the economy via tax payments and jobs.

As the month of May creeps closer and the nationwide lockdown continues to remain in place, alcohol drinkers are keeping their fingers crossed for a reprieve from the authorities not only in Maharashtra but across the country. News that microbreweries were having to dump 1,00,000 litres of freshly brewed beer in Delhi-NCR was met with dismay on social media.

Reopening liquor shops is a call that will have to be taken by state and central governments. Until then, India will have to survive without saying “cheers”.