Diageo India, Pernod Ricard, Beam Suntory, Bacardi and other big liquor companies have jointly requested the government to allow shops that sell alcoholic beverages to open for some time on a daily bais after enforcing social distancing norms. Only essentials such as groceries and medicines are currently exempted under the Covid-19 lockdown.
The International Spirits & Wine Association of India (ISWAI), which represents India’s largest liquor makers, told the consumer affairs ministry that the suspension of alcohol sales is only helping the illegal trade. The letter was also addressed to the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) and Niti Aayog.
“Food is an essential commodity and alcohol is classified as food under the Food Safety & Standards Act of 2006,” said the letter signed by ISWAI chairman Amrit Kiran Singh. “The black market is operating in the vacuum created by legal alcohol retail shops being closed, which is becoming an additional menace for the police force.”
The ISWAI said 15-30% of all state revenue comes from the alcohol sector, money that will be critical as the economy has come to a halt.
“Shuttering down liquor stores is self-defeating as state governments currently need revenue more than ever to fight the pandemic,” said Deepak Roy, executive vice chairman of Allied Blenders and Distillers (ABD), which makes Officer’s Choice whisky. “Second, piracy has doubled during shutdown as big brands are being copied and sold in smaller markets, which is not safe for consumption and impacts our brand value.”
The Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies (CIABC), the apex body of leading liquor firms, has written a letter to the Ministry of Commerce seeking a way to open liquor shops, pubs and restaurants in non-Covid-19 hotspots.
In its second letter to various state governments within a week, CIABC has urged them to allow online sale of liquor as social distancing emerges as the basic norm to follow. The submission of this plan comes as liquor trade has been shut down in the times of the Covid-19 lockdown resulting in financial losses for the industry that contributes about 20-40% of a state’s revenue.
In the letter addressed to Union Commerce and Industry minister Piyush Goyal, CIABC director general Vinod Giri said, “Factory warehouses hold stock, trucks are stranded, distribution warehouses are locked with stock and retail shops sit on unsold stock. The industry which contributes almost Rs 2-lakh crore by way of various taxes, sustains livelihood of nearly 40 lakh farmers, and employs nearly 20 lakh people directly and indirectly is in dire straits.”
CIABC in its letter has also demanded a blanket order extending the current excise year and retail-related licenses for three months, until June 30, without imposing additional fee.