New Delhi: Chaos and confusion reigned at Delhi’s liquor vends Tuesday, as several shops did not even open their shutters, despite serpentine queues gathering outside. The police had to resort to mild baton charge in several areas to disperse crowds.
At the root of the confusion was the Delhi government’s Monday night order imposing a 70 per cent “corona tax” on the maximum retail price of liquor.
ThePrint visited a liquor store in south Delhi’s Srinivaspuri at 9am, two hours before the scheduled opening time, but there was already a queue about 1.5 km long, showing that the mark-up had not deterred people, nor had the presence of the Delhi Police, Rapid Action Force and civil defence volunteers.
“The price hike doesn’t really matter. Those who want to drink will buy no matter what the price. Yesterday, I visited 50 stores across south Delhi but everything was shut. This one was open, but by the time I reached, it was 7 pm so the shop had shut. Today, I reached here at 6 am,” said Harish Mehta, who had come from Sheikh Sarai.
Dileep Kumar from Nehru Place had a similar story to tell. “Yesterday, I stood in line till 7 pm but returned empty-handed. Today, I came here at 5.30 am, and there was already a line when I reached,” he said.
Why aren’t shops opening?
Inside the Delhi Tourism (DTTDC)-operated liquor shop at Srinivaspuri near Lajpat Nagar, even the person in charge, A.P. Ray, expressed confusion about opening the shop.
“We don’t have any list from the government yet on the new rates. We only know that it’s 70 per cent but the new rates have to come to our systems. Without the new rate card, I cannot open the shop,” Ray said at noon.
Soon, the police announced that the shop would not open and asked crowds to disperse, and when it refused to budge, resorted to a lathi-charge.
“The shop in-charge doesn’t have clarity on the rates. We are dispersing the crowd because this massive crowd has gathered,” said Rajendra Prasad, police constable.
Another policeman, who did not want to be identified, said they had received orders from the district magistrate (south) to disperse the crowd, because the shop wouldn’t open.
But the magistrate, B.M. Mishra, told ThePrint that no such direction had been issued by his office.
The non-opening of the shop and the police action angered customers, who wanted to know why.
“I have already visited five shops this morning, none were open, so I came here. The government already said there’s an additional 70 per cent tax and we are ready to pay, but why have they not opened the shops?” said Sunita, who had come from Vasant Vihar.
Sultan, who was also part of the crowd, added: “We have been waiting since 6am. Every half an hour, they tell us they’re waiting for the rate card and will open soon. Now they’re asking us to leave.”
Similar story at other locations too
In north and central Delhi too, the story was much the same when ThePrint visited stores in the afternoon.
“At least 1,000 people had gathered by 8 am when we reported for duty. The SHO then decided not to open the shop seeing the huge crowds,” said police constable S.N. Ojha, who was stationed at a liquor store on D.B. Gupta Road, Karol Bagh.
People like Amit Kaul from Rohini kept returning to the shops to check. “I checked once in the morning and I have come back now, but the shop is still shut,” he said.
Preeti, who came from Jhandewalan, added: “We are ready to pay the increased charge but let them open the shop at least.”
At Jhandewalan, ThePrint found the crowd swelling outside a liquor store which had opened its shutters partially, but was not selling.
“Yesterday we sold Rs 1.5 lakh worth of liquor in the one and a half hours the shop was open. Today, until rates are clarified, I can’t open the shop,” said Harish Sharma, in-charge of the store.
As the shop was locked again to disperse the crowd, people got agitated, and the police resorted to a mild baton charge.
In Daryaganj too, liquor stores were shut. “We are not opening these shops today. We need clarity on the rate cards and make proper social distancing markers first,” said Prem Singh, a municipal worker.
Bar owners’ quandary
Bar owners are trying to figure out how the new Delhi government ‘corona tax’ will impact them, even though they’re not yet allowed to open.
Sagar Kumar, director at ‘Ministry of Beer’, said: “This leaves us with uncertainty as to what exact orders are going to be in place when it is actually decided to open up the restaurants and bars again. Due to the ongoing conditions, the government will be more inclined to gain more revenues, but we are hopeful they will protect our interests.”
Although Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, who holds the finance portfolio, has said that at the moment, the revised rate applies to only retail sales, Kumar said a group of bars have sought clarity from the Delhi excise commissioner in this regard.
ThePrint reached Excise Commissioner Ravi Dhawan through calls and messages asking for clarification, but there was no response until the time of publishing this report.
(With inputs from Aneesha Bedi)