New Delhi: Imported alcohol at half price, bottles flying off the shelves and long queues — these were the scenes outside liquor stores in Delhi following Deputy CM Manish Sisodia’s announcement Saturday that the AAP government’s Excise Policy 2021-22 will be scrapped.
Sisodia, who is in charge of the excise department, said that only government-owned liquor outlets will be allowed to sell alcohol in the national capital starting 1 August. This would mean the end of the road for about 468 private liquor vendors operational in Delhi.
The announcement came on the heels of an ongoing investigation by Delhi Police’s Economic Offences Wing (EOW) into the new excise policy which has also led to a face-off between Delhi Lieutenant Governor V.K. Saxena and the Arvind Kejriwal-led government.
With all privately-owned wine and beer outlets shutting shop owing to the withdrawal of Delhi government’s Excise Policy 2021-22, the capital is likely staring at a major liquor shortage in the coming days.
The AAP government is now reportedly considering a one-month extension for the new excise policy.
“..preempting a chaos due to shutting of private liquor shops and time needed for opening government vends, a proposal is likely to be soon presented before Delhi Cabinet for extension to the 2021-22 policy,” a top government source was quoted as saying Saturday.
But confusion looms large for both customers and private retailers until the Delhi government announces its next move and furnishes clarity over the emerging situation.
Massive discounts in bid to finish stock
In a frantic bid to empty their stock, privately-owned liquor shops in Delhi either slashed prices by half or offered customers schemes such as ‘buy-one-get-one’ on bottles of alcohol.
ThePrint found that in many areas across Delhi, popular brands of liquor and beer were sold out by Saturday afternoon. Even premium liquor flew off the shelves at massive discounts, with some bottles even being sold at half of MRP.
Liquor stores in the Laxmi Nagar area of East Delhi were thronged with people until late Saturday evening; many ran out of stock in no time.
By 8.45 pm, many outlets in Delhi were left with only 20-25 per cent of the total stock. This is when they pulled back their heavy discounts, confident of clearing their remaining stock over the weekend.
“Our owner decides the discount percentage at which we sell alcohol, we were selling accordingly. However, we are no longer providing any more discounts,” said Sonu, an employee at a private vend in Vivek Vihar.
Mrinmay, an employee at another private vend – which saw 90 per cent of its shelves cleared out Saturday – in East Delhi’s Shahdara said, “Customers asking for particular brands are disappointed. You can see we barely have stocks left, we are confident all will be gone by tonight.”
Asked about the withdrawal of the new excise policy that will result in closure of privately-owned vends, Mrinmay confirmed that his employer has informed them that the shop will be closed and handed over.
“Stocks will be emptied and the shop will be closed, and with that, thousands of us will lose our jobs now,” he said, referring to how with the closure of over 450 private liquor outlets in Delhi, hundreds like him will end up unemployed.
Excise policy & liquor shortage
The Delhi government has reportedly decided to fall back on the old excise regime for the next six months. The new Excise Policy 2021-22 – extended twice after March 31 for two months each – expires today.
What would the rollback of the new excise policy mean for retailers and customers?
Simply put, with the terms of their licenses granted under the Excise Policy 2021-22 expiring on 31 July, about 468 private liquor vendors will be forced to shut shop Monday onwards.
Licenses for 849 retail vends were issued under the new excise policy last year through open bidding by the Excise department of the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi.
Excise licences issued to hotels, clubs and restaurants with bars will also be rendered “redundant”. The same will apply to wholesalers supplying private vends.
This means that there will be virtually no wholesalers to supply liquor to Delhi’s hospitality sector in the city post July 31.
If the situation unfolds as many predict, this would be the second time within a year that the city of Delhi would be staring at a liquor shortage.
In the weeks before the new excise policy came into force on 17 November 2021, Delhi saw a shortage of alcohol as a result of many government-run stores and individual licensees quitting the retail business altogether.
According to one official, once the Delhi Cabinet approves the proposal to extend the new excise policy for another month, the same will be sent to the L-G for final approval. “The whole whole process may take around a week and till extension is granted after LG’s approval, there will be shortage in the city,” the official told news agency PTI.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)