Are Online Deliveries the Answer to Our Liquor Shop Fiasco?


Are Online Deliveries the Answer to Our Liquor Shop Fiasco?

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

The opening of liquor stores in India after over 40 days of a nationwide lockdown was met with widespread chaos, as customers flocked to the shops in crowds that blatantly flouted the guidelines of social distancing. In several major cities, like Delhi and Mumbai, liquor shops that opened in the morning had to be quickly shut by police officers after the crowds became too large to safely manage. The scenes outside the liquor stores were a horrific vision to anyone who’s been taking the advice of doctors and scientists seriously during this time, and state governments across India are trying to navigate their way around this thorny problem of overcrowding at newly reopened liquor shops.

For example, in Delhi, where some of the most ridiculous images of the crowds were captured by news reporters, the government has announced that it will be adding a 70 per cent “prohibition tax” to the sale of liquor, so as to dissuade customers from purchasing it, and more importantly, to stop them thronging the liquor shops.

However, another state has found what could be a safer alternative to the unavoidable gatherings that will occur outside liquor shops by allowing the sale of liquor online. In Chhattisgarh, the state government has launched an online portal for home delivery of liquor, available to all residents staying within Green Zones.

Chhattisgarh’s state government can sell liquor online, as sale of spirits within the state are controlled by the state-run Chhattisgarh State Marketing Corporation Limited (CSMCL). In other states, private vendors apply to the states for a license to sell liquor. Two national level alcohol industry bodies, All India Distillers Association (AIDA) and Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies (CIABC), have suggested to the government that online sale and home delivery of liquor should be permitted to avoid a repeat of the scenes seen yesterday, said a PTI report.

“We have already suggested home delivery for liquor as we had anticipated that there would be rush and crowding. This can only help in reducing the footfalls at the liquor shops,” the report quoted AIDA Director-General Shobhan Roy as saying. It’s a view that has found support from many on the internet.

There have been people tagging their elected representatives – from Amit Shah to Arvind Kejriwal – to request that the sale of liquor may be made available online.

Selling liquor online in India has traditionally been an activity where an entrepreneur has to jump through hoops to get the license and regulations – which vary in each state – and even then, laws can be amended at short notice, endangering their business. The local wine store has always won out against online delivery of liquor. Perhaps this is another part of our lives that will change forever once this pandemic has passed.