I love my cabernet and my patron. So I decided to move outside — all masked — to buy these essentials. Alas, when I reached my neighbourhood wine store, I see people standing in long queues. Most of them were men with no concern for any social distancing norms. I could tell, they were hoping to buy their favourite hard drink so that they can enjoy their evenings amidst the COVID pandemic.

This brought me back to the day the State Government allowed sale of alcohol for a few hours during the daytime. Men stomped the liquor shop like they’d been deprived of their very basic necessity for three months. It was literally like an alcohol fair, people eagerly waiting for hours just to buy a few cans of beer or a bottle of Jin and whisky. Immediately after, COVID-19 cases also shot up. Not necessarily because of the long queues but they sure had a role to play. You see, as Indians our minds are not trained to consciously follow any norms or regulations. They have to be enforced on us! That’s why every time there is a debate on whether “Liquor Should be sold online?”, I’m always a yay-sayer.

Now, it’s obvious that discussing this at a legislative level requires a thorough understanding of the implied rules & regulations on alcohol sale in different states. For instance, at this time alcohol sale via the internet hasn’t been permitted or is prohibited due to the vastness of the companies and organisations lobbying for it. Also, since different States levy different excise duty on liquor sale, it is extremely tough for the State and its police to track the purchase of liquor from one State and it being sold in another. States therefore risk losing revenue to the adjoining State levying lower excise duty.

The Consumer Point of View

Women have to face the patriarchal hum-drums every now and then. This inequality sharply hits when a woman stands at a liquor shop hoping to buy her preferred alcohol without being character assassinated by the men standing in the same line for the very same purpose. It’s ‘subtle’ no doubt, but prominent in the air. Any woman who has entered a liquor store in Delhi has faced the piercing gaze of several men who. I have heard people murmuring to their friends in queue, ‘Dekhbhai, Madam ko daaru peena hai.” Another one said, “Phir bolti hai humara rape kyu hota hai”. I was numb. Freshly out of college, I thought of myself as a liberated soul and yet was deeply affected by these harsh, unwanted comments.

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Choosing to drink or not drink is a personal choice, and by allowing online liquor sale, one can enjoy without being subjected to the harsh criticism of men, most of whom are alcoholics and perhaps would even go and enjoy the same drink with their girlfriends or wives.

At such a time, sale of online liquor comes as a breath of fresh air. I would like to order and consume my customary weekly drink in peace. Liqhub, an innovative digital service provider is already in talks with several state governments like Delhi, Jharkhand, Orissa, Maharashtra and others as the central government recently nodded for the alcohol home delivery.

LiqHub launched its liquor delivery business amidst the pandemic. Founders of LiqHub, Aryan Solanki and ShashankChandel state, “The pandemic has been a blessing in disguise for us. We have been pushing for a permit for liquor delivery for past four years, showing the advantage for society plus the revenue advantage for government.”LiqHub is currently delivering alcohol in Kolkata and a few other cities in Odisha and is planning to extend its facility in Jharkhand, Delhi and Maharashtra.Food delivery services like Swiggy and Zomato have forayed into the alcohol delivery segment in Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha. For customer age verification, boththeapps  ask for a valid ID proof.  Also, every time alcohol is delivered to the user, an OTP confirmation is generated to ensure it doesn’t land in the wrong hands.Swiggy also asks for the selfie of a user for added photo verification.

Are the government policies supporting the alcohol industry? 

The progressive states are making huge strides – Maharashtra, for instance, set up a special committee to suggestively improve Ease Of Doing Business(EODB) in the alcohol sector and was also quick in implementing reforms for the same purpose. UP, the otherwise state caught in religious debate, has also taken a step forward and has recorded doubled revenue in two years through EODB, track & trace, premiumization, and programs to curtail irresponsible consumption.  But, we also have a   few states who do not want to recognize the potential in online sale of liquor and the corrupt administrators are still caught up in knockouts for personal benefit.

Parikshit Bajaj, Director Food & Beverage, The Ritz-Carlton, Pune puts a valid point across. He said, “The hospitality and restaurant industry is bleeding loses ever since COVID-19 spread its wings in India. Positions in management and rank & file in food and beverage industry have been furloughed across the board.

The only saving grace for restaurants and satellite kitchens have been online deliveries of food and non-alcoholic beverages.  The government has not paid heed to the on-going crisis in the service industry. The unsold inventories of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are adding to the pressure on bottom line of P&L statements.  It is important that the government / local authorities allow the online sale of alcoholic beverages to ease a little burden on the food and beverage industry. It will also ensure people don’t really step outside and enjoy their night cap in the comfort of their personal lounges!”

I believe that it’s about time that the states work towards reworking their policies to maximize their revenue from alcohol while installing sufficient guardrails to curb irresponsible consumption.

(Views expressed in this article are those of the writer. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher)