From ‘buy 1, get 1’ to alcohol policy: why Delhi was left dry

There was a mad rush outside liquor stores in Delhi on July 31 as shops offered steep discounts to empty their stock after the city government announced the end of the 2021-22 excise policy . Liquor lovers thronged liquor stores, queuing to get their hands on bottles of liquor before prices skyrocketed. However, on August 1, the scene was quite the opposite. People were forced to return empty handed and there was also no alcohol served in bars, restaurants or pubs.

What happened on a day when Delhi went from an apparent abundance of alcohol to a shortage everywhere? All because of the rollback of Delhi’s new excise policy.

NEW EXCISE POLICY ROLLBACK

The Delhi government announced the withdrawal of the Delhi Excise Policy 2021-22 on July 30, two days before the expiration of the new liquor policy. Delhi’s 2021-22 excise policy, which was implemented in November last year, changed the way alcohol was sold in the city, with the government pulling out of the business and no allowing only private operators to operate liquor stores.

Delhi has been divided into 32 zones inviting businesses to bid for a license. A total of 849 retailers were awarded licenses through an open tender launched by the Excise Department.

On paper, the policy also lists specific benefits for alcohol lovers, such as:

-Discounts for retail customers
-The number of dry days has been reduced to three
-The drinking age has been lowered from 25 to 21
-Liquor stores could stay open until 3 a.m.
-Home delivery has also been provided under the new policy.

However, in the middle growing criticism of the new excise policy, the Delhi government announced that it would be phased out from August 1.

Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisiodia said: “We have decided to end the new policy and gave instructions for the opening of government stores. I ordered the chief secretary to ensure that there is no corruption in government stores and that there is no illegal alcohol being sold in Delhi.

READ ALSO | Delhi faces alcohol shortage due to increased demand

He added: “Our government introduced a new excise policy last year, before which alcohol was sold at government outlets prone to brand corruption pushing many other such things. Some stores were private but it was given to their friends, and they were charged a very small license fee. We ended this system and started a new policy,” he said.

But if the new policy was better, why was it scrapped?

From 2001 to 2021, the liquor trade was never a problem in Delhi, but the new policy brought new strains for people in this sector. The policy has become a political issue, with Congress and the BJP opposing it on moral and ethical grounds. Meanwhile, the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi has also recommended a CBI investigation into the matter.

The LG said there were clear violations of the clauses of the New Delhi Excise Policy 2021-22 which prohibit the emergence of monopolies and cartels in the liquor sector. The clauses state that no entity will be assigned more than two zones.

Naresh Kumar, Delhi’s chief secretary, found “procedural flaws and irregularities” in the policy.

On July 8, Naresh Kumar demanded a response from Manish Sisodia, who heads the excise department, on these policy shortcomings. The report, which was also sent to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and LG Vinai Kumar Saxena, also accused Manish Sisodia of making changes to the excise policy without LG’s approval.

The report alleged that undue advantages had been given to liquor licenses by revising foreign liquor tariffs and waiving the import pass fee of Rs 50 per case of beer. The report claimed that the policy resulted in a massive loss of revenue for the city.

Meanwhile, Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia has accused former Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal of changing his stance on excise policy at the last minute, alleging it resulted in loss thousands of crores of rupees for the city government.

LG REQUESTS CBI PROBE

After reviewing the report, LG Vinai Kumar Saxena called for a CBI investigation into the matter. Saxena said: “There were deliberate and gross breaches of procedure.”

Meanwhile, CM Arvind Kejriwal claimed the allegations were an attempt to tarnish the Delhi government. The Delhi CM said: “This is a completely bogus case. There is not even an iota of truth in this case.

Responding to the chief secretary’s concerns about “deficiencies and procedural irregularities”, Manish Sisodia said the policy had been approved by the former lieutenant governor.

“Before approving the policy, (former) LG read it carefully,” Manish Sisodia said, adding, “I wrote to the CBI, urging them to know how and why this happened. .”

READ ALSO | Individual licensees failing to reopen stores are worsening Delhi’s liquor crisis

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