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India's liquor industry urges govt to allow online sale, phased opening of pubs

India's liquor industry urges govt to allow online sale, phased opening of pubs

Fearing massive financial and job losses, the Indian alcoholic beverage industry has asked the Centre and state governments to chalk out a plan and allow opening of distilleries and bottling plants in a phased manner.

It has also sought phase-wise opening of retail and on-trade (pubs, restaurants, etc) establishments in non-Covid-19 hotspots and commencement of online sales under strict government observation to fulfil the criteria of social distancing.

In its letter to Union Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal, the Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies (CIABC) has sought an urgent “phase-wise opening of the alcoholic beverage industry in conformity with COVID-19 prevention guidelines.”

CIABC is the apex body of the Indian Alcoholic Beverage Industry with members including major Indian companies who manufacture and market their product range in India and abroad.

In its letter to Goyal and also Chief Ministers of all states (barring those under prohibition), CIABC Director General Vinod Giri has said since the lockdown was ordered, all wholesale and retail trade has been closed.

“"Factory warehouses hold stock, trucks are stranded, distribution warehouses are locked with stock and retail shops sit on unsold stock. Distilleries and bottling plants are shut down. The industry which contributes almost Rs 2 lakh crores 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,” Giri said.

“What has compounded the problems for alcoholic beverage industry is the fact that Excise policy for many states come to an end on March 31. Prior to that date, there are several statutory requirements that ought to be met by companies for them to keep continuity of operations. As March 31bfell in the middle of the lockdown, all supply chain stakeholders, viz., companies, distributors and retailers have not been able to meet those requirements,” CIABC letter said.

“The concern is that a prolonged shut down of industry will not only have a huge economic cost on companies, it may also force lakhs of farmers and workers in to joblessness and penury as a result of that,” it added.

CIABC has urged the government to extend the current excise year for three months, with all its permissions and approvals, until June 30, 2020 without imposing any extra fees.

It has also said that retail licenses for last fiscal expired on March 31, 2020 should also be extended for three months and shops should be permitted to sell stock purchased or ordered in 2019-20 till stocks last.

CIABC has also stressed the need for opening on-trade establishments (pubs, bars and restaurants). It has demanded that all yearly licences granted by Excise, Pollution, Fire and local authorities granted till March 31, 2020 should be automatically extended until June 15, 2020 without any charges.

Stressing the need to begin home deliveries for alcoholic beverages, CIABC has suggested that the governments should allow it by ensuring necessary checks and diligence.

“Shops should be asked to enrol for home delivery through online applications. Government may charge a fee, this being an addition to license. Each qualifying shop should be given 3-4 movement passes for home delivery personnel. Customers may place order online on over phone, along with an ID proof establishing age. Government may limit amount of liquor delivered or frequency of delivery as it deems fit.”

“The governments can even consider setting up their own portals for facilitating home deliveries. It can rope in food delivery aggregators to do so,” he added.

Giri said prolonged unavailability of legal alcohol also has other undesired consequences. Within just two weeks of the lock down, there are already growing reports of sale of illicit and spurious liquor. (With agency inputs).