The liquor lobby in India has demanded that states allow the sale of alcohol outside the containment zones with strict social distancing guidelines in place. In a sign that even states want sales to resume, Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh requested the Modi government to lift the ban. But the Home Ministry has asserted that liquor shops will stay shut. States generate a big chunk in revenues from taxing liquor and the corona crisis has left them cash-strapped.
ThePrint: Curb on liquor sale: BJP-RSS conservatism or has medical reasons?
Opening liquor shops will increase the chances of coronavirus infection spread
Assistant professor, Delhi University
In normal times, we have seen long queues in front of the liquor shops in different cities ranging from metros to tier-III cities. People buy from these shops and many consume the alcohol right outside them. On most occasions, the local police have found it difficult to disperse them. These people, in their inebriated condition, also get involved in scuffling and violence with police and other people for no definite reason. This leads to unnecessary chaos and sometimes, the authorities find it difficult to manage such a situation. Incidents of drunk driving, accidents, and domestic violence have a close connection with liquor sales. Local thekas in smaller cities, towns and villages only add to the problem.
At present, the country is fighting an unknown enemy. States are definitely facing losses from excise duty but they should not come under the pressure of any liquor lobby to open wine shops. Opening them will only increase the chances of people getting affected by the coronavirus. This will cause insurmountable damage to the benefits accrued through the Covid-19 lockdown. It will burden the police, doctors and sanitation workers with additional work. If the government allows liquor shops to be opened in metro cities, then all the shopkeepers will demand the same for their shops, both in rural and urban centres. We should analyse this situation holistically and not look at it from the prism of metro cities only.
Curb on liquor sale during Covid-19 lockdown is leading to stress and self-harm
Associate Professor, Jindal School of Government and Public Policy and member, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan
Alcohol consumption should not be debated through a moral lens but rather as a public health concern. Existing evidence indicates that any consumption of alcohol, however modest, is bad for health.
But, if we look at the people dependent on alcohol and experiencing withdrawal symptoms during the Covid-19 lockdown, the mental health aspect comes in. We saw this earlier this month in Kerala, where seven people committed suicide due to the non-availability of liquor.
From this perspective, a curb on the liquor sales increases stress and self-harm. A public health perspective on the ban of alcohol sales would mean that the state has to take care of mental health needs of the people at the same time. Under lockdown, all non-emergency healthcare and generic OPD services are suffering, so is mental healthcare. We also need to keep in mind that women are at the receiving end of this ban and are being subjected to domestic violence. That said, the other critical question is why should we dwell on alcohol if it’s not an essential commodity?
You cannot see this question from a moral point of view because you immediately leave out a section of our society that is suffering from alcoholism. They should be seen with equal empathy as the other people in need of healthcare.
Liquor sales will help cash-strapped states. Revive some economic activity
Fellow, Carnegie India
According to one estimate, in a year, states collect Rs 2 lakh crore by taxing liquor sales, which makes up at least 15 per cent of the tax revenue of states. This has been adversely impacted in the last five weeks. That’s a big problem in the current Covid-19 crisis, as the states are already cash-strapped. All sources of revenue are drying up for them.
In addition to SGST, sales tax/VAT, tax on property transactions, and state excise duties, their main source of revenue is the share they receive from Centre’s tax collection.
Since economic activity has mostly come to a standstill, most of the states’ own tax revenues are under stress. Further, the Centre may also collect and share much lower tax amount than budgeted because its sources of tax revenue — corporation tax, income tax, GST, excise duty and customs, are under stress. GST collection for both Centre and state will be low because consumption is low. Corporate tax will suffer because profitability for most firms is likely to be low. Taxes on petroleum products will also fall because of the fall in consumption.
Alcohol can be easily sold in a way that does not violate social distancing norms like through home delivery. Even if liquor is sold at a higher price, I’m sure many people would be more than willing to pay for it. This will help the states fiscally, and also get some part of economic activity going.
Permitting sale of alcohol during Covid-19 lockdown imprudent. Can exacerbate violence
Dr Soham D. Bhaduri
Editor, The Indian Practitioner & healthcare commentator
Banning of alcohol during the Covid-19 crisis is a tricky thing. We have a directive principle to curb alcohol consumption except medicinally, which may be comfortably invoked here by some. Permitting free sale of alcohol during the Covid-19 lockdown is imprudent given that isolation predisposes to psychological aberrations and violence, which may be exacerbated by alcohol.
Add to it the fact that lockdown can itself predispose people to excessive drinking, which can make things even worse. On the other hand, alcohol withdrawal and concomitant ills like suicides and substitution with toxic substitutes can be a problem, given the reduced access to healthcare. Most withdrawal patients require continued supportive counselling, supervision, and medications; a small percentage may even require emergency management.
We should find a middle path here. The main rationale behind curbing alcohol during Covid crisis is that people shouldn’t congregate in social drinking and spread the infection.
We may permit regulated alcohol consumption, while ensuring social distancing and not letting intakes shoot up too much. There are safe-drinking guidelines prepared by various experts – this could be a good opportunity to fervently promote them. At the same time, adequate arrangements for handling withdrawal and treating dependence must be made available, and smooth access to them should be ensured.
By Pia Krishnankutty, journalist at ThePrint