Updated: May 5, 2020 3:58:06 pm
The Centre has allowed sale of liquor across the country, even as it extended the lockdown period for two more weeks beginning Monday. The sale of liquor is part of the overall opening of economic activity that the government is attempting in the third phase of the lockdown, and is expected to earn states much-needed revenue.
But will liquor now be freely available, or will there still be some restrictions? Will all liquor stores now open? Will all cities, towns, and villages have liquor shops operating? We will try to answer these questions here:
Where will liquor stores open?
Barring containment zones, where there is strict perimeter control and almost total ban on public movement except for emergencies, liquor stores will open everywhere.
In Green Zones, i.e., districts where no case of COVID-19 has been reported in the past 21 days, liquor stores will open everywhere barring those in shopping malls, as malls are shut. This will apply to both rural and urban areas.
In Orange Zones, districts where COVID-19 case concentration is very low, liquor stores will open everywhere in the same way as they will open in Green Zones. This will apply to almost all villages, and a majority of towns, as they all fall in these two zones.
In Red Zones too, liquor stores will open. The guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) do not mention any ban on opening of liquor stores in Red Zones.
However, not all liquor stores in Red Zones will open. Sources in the MHA said that in the Red Zones, only standalone liquor stores, or liquor stores located in a colony, can open. Liquor stores that are situated in market complexes will remain shut.
This means that in cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Jaipur, Indore, and Hyderabad, which are all Red Zones because of the high number of COVID cases, liquor stores will open — unless they are located in a market.
This is because in the market complexes of Red Zones, only shops dealing in essentials are allowed to open. However, in rural areas of Red Zones, all shops (barring those in malls) are allowed to open, and so will liquor stores in markets.
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OK, but why do the guidelines not specifically mention liquor stores in Red Zones?
Guidelines are largely about prohibitions — and less about permissions. Therefore, all that is not prohibited is allowed.
Among the commercial activities allowed in Red Zones, the guidelines say: “All standalone (single) shops, neighbourhood (colony) shops and shops in residential complexes are permitted to remain open in urban areas, without any distinction of essential and non-essential. All shops in rural areas, except in malls, are permitted to remain open, without any distinction of essential and non-essential.”
The same clause in the last set of MHA guidelines, when liquor stores were banned, had said only shops registered “under the Shops and Establishment Act” would be allowed to operate in these areas. This meant that liquor stores, which are governed by the Excise Act, would remain shut.
This condition has now been removed — and so, liquor stores will open if they are not in market complexes in urban areas.
So this is final, then?
Well, no. Not yet.
The MHA has issued national guidelines; states have to now issue their own, separate guidelines based on these national guidelines. And if they feel they do not want to open liquor stores, they can ignore the national guidelines in this matter.
This is because, under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, states have the power to make COVID-19 containment measures stricter if they deem it necessary. They cannot dilute restrictions imposed by the Centre, but they can ignore relaxations.
That said, however, the general understanding is that no state would want to keep liquor stores shut at this time. This is because liquor is one of the biggest sources of revenue for most states. In most states the revenue share of liquor is between 25-40%. And all states are badly cash-strapped.
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So should you plan to rush to the nearest liquor store on May 4?
No. You cannot — and given the grim battle against the pandemic, you must not.
There are strict social distancing guidelines in place which have to be followed. There has to be six feet distance between two buyers. And not more than five people can be allowed around the liquor store. Everyone has to wear a mask and ensure personal hygiene.
So if you do go to the liquor store, take all precautions — and expect long queues.
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