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Liquor sales hit by excise policy, complex rules



NEW DELHI: Heading out for drinks at your favourite watering hole in Gurgaon, Noida or Delhi? You may return disappointed.

Last April, the Supreme Court’s ban on the sale of liquor near highways had hit restaurants, hotels and bars. Although the curbs were subsequently modified to exempt places that served liquor, restaurateurs now say their businesses are getting hit by new excise policy and licence norms, which have led to a scarcity of liquor supply in some states.

“We are working with various state governments and we are going through a tough time, especially in states like Delhi, UP and Haryana,” said Rahul Singh, president of the National Restaurant Association of India and owner of the Beer Café.

Problems with excise department websites or online processing of outlet registrations have led to bars and restaurants running out of liquor in some states this month.

“In Haryana the entire process moved online and there were delays in online registration and approval of labels… the past 15 days there is zero supply as the online system was not reflecting the registrations,” Singh said. “In UP as well, they have gone online but the online system is not working. In Delhi, the supply is there but the Delhi police teams are asking for multiple check lists.”

In Maharashtra, the licence fee has been increased by 10% this year.

“Business had been bad last year after the Supreme Court liquor ban and we had approached the government for some relief. There is not much headway in those discussions as they said they had not hiked the licence fee in three years and they will this year,” said Dilip Datwani, president of the Hotel & Restaurant Association of Western India. “With the hike, it’s the bottom line that gets hit and eats into your profits.”

Many foreign liquor labels are not available in states like Haryana, which is impacting business for restaurants adversely, according to Anurag Katriar, CEO of deGustibus Hospitality, which runs restaurants such as Indigo Delicatessen and Tote on the Turf.

“We have only one outlet in CyberHub, but if this continues we will also face the crunch,” said Katriar. “Hiking the licence fee in states like Maharashtra does hit the business as well as everybody was hoping for some relief. It is an added cost. The market is so competitive and the chains can’t afford to hike the prices.”

In the capital, a new checklist required by the Delhi Police has compounded problems. Operators of eateries and bars need police eating house licences, apart from permits from the Food Safety & Standards Authority of India and municipal health authorities and a dozen more statutory registrations.

“The Delhi Police eating house licence is unique to Delhi and for the first time this year, they have introduced a new checklist of 19 documents for obtaining that licence. All these need to be secured in order to obtain an excise licence,” said Singh of Beer Cafe. “Earlier, one could just show the municipal body clearance for obtaining the Delhi Police eating house licence.”

Manbir Choudhary, president of the Hotel & Restaurant Association of Haryana, said it had requested the government to initiate faster action and get more liquor vendors for Haryana or enable outlets to procure stocks from warehouses in Delhi, but that has not been permitted till now. “Foreign liquor labels are not available in the state,” he said.

Singh said the problem is particularly grave for his beer chain.

“We have zero stock in our outlets in Haryana as beer is perishable liquor and we do not keep more than one week of stock in our outlets,” said Singh.

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