With liquor and cigarettes not classified as essentials in India, prices of these products have shot up with several retailers selling them at black charging 5-10% extra price over their MRP.
While grocery shops are the only ones selling cigarettes since pan-and-cigarette shops are closed amid the lockdown, these retailers are selling packs at Rs 5-15 more than their printed price citing limited stock, a senior industry executive said.
Many are turning to illegal liquor, say customs and police officials, who have seen a marked increase in seizures of booze , which has in the past claimed thousands of lives among the poor unable to afford branded booze.
“I paid 700 rupees for a 170 rupees whisky bottle,” said Manish, who was asked to visit a nearby milk shop in Mumbai.“Many are willing to pay even higher prices for liquor, but can’t get any. I was lucky as I at least got some,” said Manish, who gave only his first name.
Higher availability of disposable income and a growing urban population has led to an increase in alcohol consumption in India over recent years.
According to Google Trends, online searches for “how to make alcohol at home” peaked in India during the week of March 22-28, the same week Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed the nationwide lockdown.
In late March, black-market sellers were charging double the price, but these cases have been rising daily with liquor shops being sealed to prevent illegal sales, say excise officials. India’s lockdown has now been extended into early May as the number of virus cases crossed 15,000. In Uttar Pradesh, two people died last week after drinking home-brewed liquor, while five others were admitted to hospital in critical condition, police said.
Liquor scarcity has also sparked break-ins at wine shops and fraud, with buyers falling into the trap of making online payments for liquor that never arrived, a police official in the city of Pune said.
Local media have reported at least a dozen cases of suicide due to alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and at least two states in India’s northeast have opted to reopen alcohol stores this week to address consumer demand.