Chaos, long queues at liquor shops

As Delhi government allowed to open 150 odd government run liquor shops from today from 9AM to 6.30 PM, there was chaos and long queues violating social distancing necessary in the wake of widespread COVID-19.

People lined up in large numbers outside liquor outlets since morning when these opened after 42 days, with police personnel struggling to manage the crowd.  Police personnel were seen desperately trying to manage the crowd outside many outlets where more than five people are not allowed at a given time.

There are around 850 liquor shops in Delhi, including those run by government agencies and private individuals, however, about 150 were allowed to open today.  In an order on Sunday night, the excise department also directed officials to identify liquor shops, which are being run by private individuals (L-7 licensee) and fulfill conditions laid down by the Ministry of Home Affairs.   The government has so far allowed only those liquor shops (L-6 and L-8) to operate which are being run by four state-run agencies responsible for liquor sale in the national capital.  All liquor shops in malls and markets will remain closed.

According to the order, the Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation, the Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation, the Delhi State Civil Supplies Corporation Limited and the Delhi Consumers Cooperative Wholesale Store have been given the permission to open liquor shops in public places, except malls and market complexes.

The agencies will have to give an undertaking stating that liquor shops being allowed to open will fulfill all MHA guidelines, according to the excise department.

Delhi is not the only place where social distancing norms went in for a toss. Reports received from other states revealed huge rush before liquor shops. Long queues were seen outside liquor shops across Uttar Pradesh since Monday morning as people lined up to purchase liquor. In Lucknow, long  queues were seen from as early as 7 a.m.  Liquor shops located in the hotspot zones, however, remained shut. 

Long queues of alcohol buyers were seen outside the liquor shops in Chandigarh where cops faced tough time to enforce social distancing. In neighbouring Haryana, the liquor shops did not open following a controversy between the licencees and the state government.  Liquor licence holders in Haryana demanded relaxation in the fees and taxes. They sought relief arguing that they have suffered losses during the first two phases of lockdown in the wake of coronavirus outbreak in the country. The Himachal Pradesh government has decided to waive off licence fee from liquor vends from March 22-May 3 and has permitted liquor shops to operate from May 4.

In Andhra Pradesh, long queues were seen at retail liquor outlets at many places across the state, while police had a tough time in controlling the crowd and ensuring social distancing norms.  The customers lined up outside the shops long before they opened at 11 am though the state government, which runs the retail liquor business, had increased the prices by 25 per cent. However, this has failed to deter the tipplers, who turned out in large numbers at almost every shop.

In Karnataka too, Bacchus,  flocked liquor shops even before day-break and performed “special prayers” with flowers, coconuts, incense sticks, camphor and crackers in front of the stores.

In West Bengal, the State government allowed standalone liquor shops to reopen from Monday in green, orange and red zones, but not in containment areas.   The guideline issued by the government in this regard said only ‘OFF’ category shops selling foreign, IMFL, and country spirits will remain functional and not ‘ON’ shops.  The government also disallowed outlets located in shopping complexes to reopen. Beer pubs, clubs, restaurant- cum-bars and hotel-restaurant-cum-bars will remain closed.  Initially, the government guideline allowed shops to stay open from 10 am till 6 pm, but later the timing was changed from 3 pm to 6 pm.

Reports pouring in from other parts of the country too revealed social distancing norms going in for a toss as tipplers rushed in to buy liquor.