A high life awaits liquor buyers

Come November 17, private vends promise a whole new experience

Updated - October 03, 2021 03:22 am IST

Published - October 03, 2021 01:17 am IST - NEW DELHI

 Empty shelves greet last few buyers at a private liquor shop in New Delhi on September 30.

Empty shelves greet last few buyers at a private liquor shop in New Delhi on September 30.

Empty shelves at 260 private liquor stores across the Capital greeted buyers wanting to stock up premium brands of their choice as the news about the vends downing their stutters from October 1 to November 16 created a buying frenzy last week.

The shops promise to reopen on November 17 in a new avatar, keeping with the guidelines of the Excise Policy 2021-22 brought in by the Delhi government, which plans to exit the sale of liquor. In the interim period (October 1 to November 16), over 500 government-run liquor shops will cater to the demand before closing down permanently.

Come November 17, as many as 844 new liquor stores — all private outlets — will open in the city with a promise to change the experience of buying alcohol. According to the new policy, all vends will be spacious (at least 500 sq. ft.), air-conditioned and have glass doors, allowing customers to walk-in and choose their brands. The owners will have to ensure there is no crowding outside the store and no dry snacks or cooked food outlets, that encourage people to drink and loiter, are run outside the premises.

“The current retail experience is like a jail. When you go to a liquor shop, there is a grill and people rush and throw money to buy liquor. There is no dignity,” Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had said in March while announcing the new excise policy. The government also hopes to generate more revenue from exiting the liquor business as the licence fee has been increased substantially. Mr. Sisodia estimated an additional revenue of ₹3,500 crore from implementing the new policy during the current financial year.

Super Premium Vends

To enhance the liquor buying experience further, five Super Premium Vends (SPV), of size not less than 2,500 sq. ft., will come up and sell products only above ₹200 in case of beer and above ₹1,000 for all other spirits. The SPVs can dedicate up to 10% of their space to sell ancillary products such as cigars, liquor chocolates etc., high-end artwork and high-value merchandise such as bottle openers, ice boxes, bar glasses etc.

The SPVs have been permitted to set up a tasting room — an enclosed area not visible from rest of the store — within the premises, where training and tasting sessions will be held. The government is yet to float tenders for the SPVs and they won’t open on November 17.

Hoarding frenzy

The 47-day transition period, when only government-run liquor shops will remain open, triggered a hoarding frenzy in the city last week with buyers fearing overcrowding at the vends and shortage of premium brands. Private stores that were shutting down also made an attempt to get rid of their stock.

Hearing of a possibility of liquor shortage and factoring in the upcoming festival season, Niketan Sabharwal, who runs a travel agency, decided to stock up from the liquor section at a west Delhi mall. He said he reached the mall slightly earlier than usual, only to find the entire section buzzing with activity at 9.30 a.m. “Most shops had moved a lot of their stock near the door. Not only were the sellers politely soliciting buyers but also offering discounts on bulk orders. I got almost half a crate of beer and an entire bottle of budget scotch at no extra charge,” he said.

Anwar Ali (name changed on request), who is employed at a private liquor vend in east Delhi, said his employer had tasked him with bringing buyers to the shop for the last 10 days. “I and a couple of my colleagues formed a chain to ensure that the customers come to our shop out of countless others near ours so we can finish our stock as soon as possible,” he said.

When contacted, the Delhi government spokesperson said that people did not need to hoard liquor as all government-owned shops will continue to function.

“Delhi is witnessing a transition phase in liquor management. Government-owned liquor shops have been instructed to make sure they have sufficient stocks to fulfil the demand during this period. The liquor shops have been directed to release payments on time to suppliers. We expect that in a situation where sufficient supply is maintained, crowding or any other incidents will not happen,” the spokesperson said.

Asked about the need to shut down private vends from October 1 to November 16, an official in the Excise Department said: “It is for the smooth transition to the new policy.”

Naresh Goel, president of Delhi Liquor Traders Association, said that the government did not give an explanation on why private liquor vends are being closed for so many days. He said it could because the traders approached the Delhi High Court, opposing the new liquor policy and the closing of vends, and the legalities involved in the matter.

Under the new policy, the government has divided the city into 32 zones and allotted 849, including five SPVs, for equal distribution of liquor vends. Before this process, 79 of the 272 municipal wards in the city did not have a liquor vend and 58% of Delhi was either unserved or underserved, the government said.

Also, under the new excise policy, the legal age for liquor consumption in the city has been reduced to 21 from 25 years. Welcoming the move, Swati Gulati, 25, who works in the HR Department of a private firm, said: “Throughout my student years I found the drinking age limit ridiculous. The experience of buying alcohol has improved with shops opening up in malls and I feel the new shops will help women like me feel safer buying alcohol. If we are spending money to buy a bottle of wine to enjoy over the weekend, it only makes sense to be able to read the label and educate ourselves instead of going to a hole in the wall and jostling with people to buy whatever the shopkeeper decides to hand us.”

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