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Friday, June 2, 2023

Indian states urged to allow home delivery of liquor but face challenges

A liquor store salesman in the Jangpura neighbourhood of New Delhi, known to his regulars as Mr Bhatti, laughed on the phone when asked if his store did home delivery.

“The government has announced it, but they have not permitted it,” he said, describing succinctly Delhi’s keen but confusing plans to allow home delivery of alcohol.

India’s capital city has been under lockdown since April 19 to curtail spread of the coronavirus. It was ravaged in the second wave this year, with around 28,000 Covid-19 cases and more than 250 deaths recorded a day in April.

But with the number of cases shrinking, the Delhi government started to gradually lift movement restrictions from June 7. Markets, grocery shops and malls can open on alternate days. Liquor stores follow the same rules, but have requested that the Delhi government also allow home delivery to prevent large crowds.

Delhi amended state excise rules on June 1 to permit home delivery, and they took effect – technically – last Friday. But as Mr Bhatti put it: “It is good news that is of no use to anyone yet.”

Mr Pritam Pal Singh, a member of the Aam Aadmi Party which runs the Delhi state government, said: “Online purchases will be allowed on a mobile app, which we will build soon. But not yet. Liquor vendors have to first apply for a licence for home delivery service.”

Buying booze online in India is not as easy as buying bread and eggs. Until the pandemic, excise rules in most states explicitly prohibited home delivery.

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But after people crowded outside alcohol shops in violation of Covid-19 protocols last year, India’s apex court advised states to consider home delivery of liquor.

Many state governments are heavily dependent on alcohol sales revenue but are reluctant to make alcohol so easily accessible.

On May 27 last year, after a two-month closure during the first wave of the pandemic, the Kerala State Beverages Corporation launched BevQ, an online queue management mobile app to restart alcohol sales. BevQ gave registered users queue tokens for stores in a 15km radius around their neighbourhood. Each user is given a 15-minute slot to buy alcohol.

Around 300 shops and 900 bars were enlisted, and 200 million users registered. About 250,000 tokens a day were given out.

Faircode Technologies, which developed the app, tried to add elements such as online payments and “click and pick” (through which customers can pick up the bottles at a designated time), but the government overruled it.

Mr Rajith Ramachandran, co-founder of the start-up, realised then that BevQ was never meant to be a consumer app. “The app was not user-friendly, not due to technological difficulties, but because of alcohol sale policies in India. Home delivery is easy to add, but the government doesn’t want alcohol to be that easily available.”

As alcohol stores in Kerala have been closed since April 27, following the second wave, the state might restart BevQ. But it has ruled out home delivery.

“The alcohol consumer market in India is not even – there are millennial tipplers, two-pegs-an-evening folks and also dangerous drunkards who are given to domestic violence or drink driving,” said an alcohol manufacturer who declined to be named. “So, you can’t have a system where just anyone can scroll through liquor brands and quantity and just order.”

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The experience of other states shows that home delivery of alcohol is complicated but not impossible. “Mumbai and Kolkata are good examples of home delivery of liquor happening without any bad outcomes,” said Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies director-general Vinod Giri.

But steep delivery charges in the cities have been a deterrent. In Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, alcohol is delivered via restaurant and grocery aggregator apps, but the latter are staying away from Delhi until the rules are clearer.

Industry experts say safeguards are needed to prevent minors from buying alcohol, reduce excessive drinking and curb adulteration. States may also want to block cross-border sales.

Pending these precautions, alcohol lovers will have to eke out their drinks.

The above news was originally posted on


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