CHANDIGARH MAY be the most sought-after place to settle in but not many are aware that the City Beautiful is a favourite spot for the booze lovers as well. According to the details with the Excise Department accessed by Chandigarh Newsline, city residents drank 1,00,34,666 bottles of liquor in 11 months from April 2016 to February 2017. Of this, 93 lakh bottles were of Indian Made Foreign liquor (IMFL) while consumption of country-made liquor bottles was just 7,01,333.
On average, the city consumed 30,000 liquor bottles daily with whisky appearing to be the most sought-after. The IMFL industry which is the major source of revenue for the administration — it earned Rs 225 crore to the UT — has its maximum potential profit derived from whisky. Approximately 44 lakh bottles of whisky admix value (Mc Dowells, Imperial Blue, Officer’s Choice Blue) were consumed in this period and the second in line was whisky admix deluxe (Royal Stag, Royal Challenge) with 28 lakh bottles. The least consumers are of scotch premium with consumption of just 73,000 bottles in a year. The overall business of liquor is of Rs 238 crore and 99 vends are operating in the city.
“Mostly people prefer hard drinking in Chandigarh. Around 70 per cent of my sale was only for whisky. Wines are not even 2 per cent of the stock,” says a liquor contractor. Nearly 30,000 bottles of wine were consumed in one year in Chandigarh. However, the president of Chandigarh Wine Merchant Association, Satyapal, feels that people are gradually shifting to white drink. “Even as consumption of whisky is the highest, people are now shifting to white drinks like vodka whose consumption will see a rise in the near future. The liquor trade in Chandigarh is emerging stronger each year,” he says.
On papers, people above the age of 25 years are allowed to consume liquor but sellers hardly take note of it. “Our potential customer base is between 19 and 27 years of age. When it comes to selling liquor, nobody actually asks the buyer his age,” says the contractor. Satyapal says, “In fact, there is no such barometer with which shopkeepers can determine the age when somebody comes to buy liquor.” Hoteliers, too, do not care much about the age norm. “Enforcement has to be strong,” says a hotel owner. “When everybody knows that this criterion is not enforced properly by the authorities themselves, then why should we stop anybody from drinking?”
The ex-distillery price (EDP) in Chandigarh is the least as compared to Punjab and Haryana. While premium whisky costs Rs 620 in Haryana and Rs 800 in Punjab, it costs only Rs 580 in Chandigarh. Similarly, in the category of deluxe whisky, while Royal stag costs Rs 400 in Haryana and Rs 530 in Punjab, it costs only Rs 360 in Chandigarh. The value whisky — that is Imperial Blue, McD No 1 and OC Blue — costs Rs 350 in Haryana and Rs 450 in Punjab while it is priced at Rs 300 in Chandigarh. In the scotch category, too, Black Dog Cent which costs Rs 1,400 in Haryana and Rs 1,500 in Punjab, it costs only Rs 1,000 in Chandigarh.
The best time of the year for the booze lovers is March when the liquor vend owners lower the rates of liquor in order to lift their fixed quotas. The rates are reduced by almost 40 per cent. The quota to be lifted is around 10 lakh cases in a year for all the vends. “As the rates are lowered, some booze lovers prefer to store some of the stock,” says a liquor vend owner.
The excise department fixes a minimum retail price to increase revenue. As liquor vend owners have to pay excise duty for the liquor quota — whether liquor was sold or not — some contractors try to sell the liquor below the minimum retail price. The liquor contractors have to pay a penalty as well if the quota doesn’t get lifted. Not to disappoint its booze lovers after the Supreme Court’s orders of closure of vends on the highways, the UT recently denotified its state highways and declared them as major district roads. Chandigarh would have faced almost a complete liquor ban but now it is just 22 out of 99 vends located on Madhya Marg and National Highway 21 that would face closure. The matter has been challenged as the petitioner who filed the case in the Supreme Court, Harman Sidhu, said that Chandigarh tried to circumvent the order.
As per the amendment in the notification, all VI, V2, V3 roads have been renamed as major district roads but no liquor vends will be allowed within 500 metre on either side of the Madhya Marg and the Dakshin Marg. While the Madhya Marg passes through sectors 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 26, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 27 and 28, the Dakshin Marg runs through sectors 38, 37, 36, 35, 34, 49, 59, 58, 57, 56, 55 and 54. Also, roads passing through sectors 43, 42, 22, 21 and 20 will have no vends.
“I will fight till the end. Chandigarh tried to circumvent the orders,” says petitioner Sidhu.
The UT Administration is also in the process to announce the excise policy which aims to generate more revenue in 2017-18 from the liquor trade.
As per the newly proposed policy, vends would be allotted through lottery system and the quota system would be abolished by moving to a minimum guarantee model for the sale of cases.
The administration wants to do away with the conventional system of auction of vends and switch over to lottery. As per this method, the administration would charge Rs 75,000 per application by way of lottery method. By this, officials aim to earn a revenue of Rs 75 crore as 100 applications per vend are expected.
It is proposed that the minimum sale price would be increased by Rs 100 per bottle for scotch category and Rs 50 per bottle for other categories and Rs 10 for beer. This would add Rs 60 crore to the existing revenue of Rs 230 crore from the liquor trade.
Shop licence fee would be introduced and vends would be divided into three categories. For category A, it would be 8,000 cases per annum, that is Rs 1.50 crore as the licence fee. Under category B, it would be 6,000 cases per annum, which is Rs 1 crore as the licence fee. For category C, the fee would be Rs 75 lakh with 4,000 cases per annum. The category A would be for those vends where bid price was more than Rs 2.5 crore, category B would be from Rs 1.75 crore to Rs 2.5 crore, and category C would be for the bid price less than Rs 1.75 crore.