The excise taxation department of Haryana state plans to recover losses to the tune of Rs 9000 crore, incurred due to the shutting down of liquor outlets in the state; while trying to curb the illicit trade of alcohol.
Haryana | In a bid to reduce the growth of illicit liquor during the lockdown and revive the excise revenue in Haryana, the state government has given its nod to start production in liquor factories and plants, although it’s made clear that the sale will start only after the lockdown.
The decision to start liquor production in the state owing to the Rs 9000 crore loss in revenue that the state had to bear in two months, has come as a relief to many alcohol distributors and manufacturers.
The government says that this decision will help cover the losses in revenue. However, the move has garnered criticism from the opposition party leaders, who are slamming the state government by questioning their priorities amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
As of now, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Haryana has reached 179. No sale during the lockdown has raised concerns about illicit selling of liquor and smuggling of desi (locally prepared) alcohol.
Statistics show that alcohol consumption in India stood at 5.4 billion liters in 2016. The market consists mainly of two kinds of liquor—Indian Made Indian Liquor (IMIL) and Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL). According to India’s National Sample Survey office data, Haryana’s consumption of toddy and country liquor was 89 liters per capita per week in 2012.
Citing the burden on states’ exchequer, the Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies (CIABC), on April 7, had urged the chief ministers of ten states to allow the sale of alcohol during the lockdown. They also said this was necessary to avoid illicit trading of alcohol.
CIABC director general Vinod Giri had sent letters to 10 states—Delhi, Haryana, Karnataka, MP, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. In the letter, Giri stated the potential consequences like disruption of law and order and illicit trading that the states can face.
Gaurav Marhan, a political science student at Kurukshetra University, highlighted that the lockdown has led to the thriving sale of illicit liquor in the region. “In such desperate times, people are willingly paying double the normal price for alcohol. Recently, one of my relatives paid Rs 11,00 for a 750ml bottle, which otherwise would have cost Rs 500-600. People have contacts and they find their way out in any crisis. Traders and local alcohol manufacturers are exploiting the situation.”
Meanwhile, just like any other distributor, the liquor retail shop owners in Haryana are facing huge losses.
Kuldeep Sharma, a retail shop owner and alcoholic beverage distributor in Haryana, has to bear the brunt as he is losing Rs 1 lakh on foreign liquor sales and Rs 40,000 on the desi liquor sale, daily. “The tender for new retail shops was passed,” said Kuldeep, “and licenses were issued to traders who were supposed to operate from April 1. But due to the lockdown, these activities have been halted.”
“Banning liquor amid the coronavirus pandemic won’t help the government as sale of alcohol generates a large chunk of revenue. They should permit the retailers to sell alcohol during the lockdown with reasonable restrictions like fixed shop timings and mandatory distancing while at the outlet,” Kuldeep added.
Many fear that due to the lockdown and no availability of liquor in the rural areas, people could get addicted to other more harmful substances, to deal with the lockdown blues
Asserting the importance of self-health care, Dr. Bahadur Singh, a Medical Officer at City Civil hospital, Kurukshetra, treats minimum six-seven cases of excessive alcohol consumption per day. He said, “Production of liquor is good for the small-scale workers and manufacturers in the long run, but its consumption by people is not. Alcohol harms the immune system and also adversely affects the lungs and the liver. People must understand the need of this hour, and avoid using any toxic substitute for alcohol as it could prove fatal. Also, consuming alcohol will protect them from getting infected by COVID-19 is a misconception. The government must take preventive measures to ensure the health of people and must not encourage sales.”