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Party pooper Delhi stalls new liquor licences


DELHI: The Delhi Government seems to be unmoved by the outcry among restaurateurs over the denial of new liquor licences. Holding that social drinking “in limited amounts” is an “individual choice” that comes with “responsibility”, Delhi government is for now sticking to its guns. Renewal of old licences will continue but no new liquor licence for restaurants and malls will be issued.This policy is likely to continue till the end of the current fiscal at least. Also, allowing serving of liquor in open areas like streets and public spaces will not be allowed.Similarly , restaurants with terraces and verandahs too will be out of bounds.

Under its partly notified Excise Policy 2016, the Delhi government has decided to stop issuing liquor licences to new government and private liquor vends for the current fiscal. Another order for liquor licences for restaurants and malls was issued last month.

“Restaurants with private open areas connected to their covered area can be allowed to serve liquor, subject to appropriate restrictions,” say excise officials when asked about the possibility of allowing access to terraces and verandahs for consuming liquor. This, however, is hardly a relaxation. It means that if any restaurant wants to serve liquor beyond the licensed bar and restaurant space, it will have to apply for the P-13 permit, which is a one-time permit applicable to a specific day or stipulated hours of a day . A fresh licence will be required for the subsequent day . The P-13 permit is usually taken by restaurants in case of events and is clearly unviable and impractical for day-to-day operations.

Making little distinction between drinking in public spaces and drinking in designated areas, the Delhi government says it is a “menace” which has to be stopped completely . Our government has started a drive to make people aware about this and is also taking strict action against offenders. We are not prepared to allow drinking in open areas which are open to public view,” say excise officials. Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia heads the department.

Explaining the rationale behind not issuing new liquor licences to restaurants and malls, the excise officials claimed “it was assessed that the number of licences issued till date are sufficient to cater to the present demand for liquor.” They also dismiss the notion that this decision will have an impact on “ease of doing business” as the process of procurement and distribution of liquor is “online and seamless”.

The department pointed out that the retail licence for liquor once issued in Delhi is automatically renewed every year unlike in many other states where is has be issued afresh, every year. Earlier, the excise duty was levied at the stage of sale of liquor by a wholesaler in Delhi. In a change in policy , now it is levied at the first stage of import. Officials say this has not only plugged revenue leakage but also improved the availability of all brands of liquor.

Delhi government data shows that there are 704 restaurants with bar licences, 399 private vends and 170 liquor shops in malls. There are 350 government-run vends. The decision to stop all new liquor licences for this financial year is being justified on the ground that Delhi already has a lot of liquor vends, enough to fulfill the city’s demand, sources said. It is learnt that a similar cap on liquor licences was put in place in 2004-05 by the then Congress-led government.

The AAP government has come under pressure because of a campaign by the new outfit, Swaraj Abhiyan. It has attacked the government for going overboard with grant of liquor licences which, they claimed, was against AAP’s promise of making the city free of addiction (nasha-mukt). The BJP too had attacked AAP over the issue. The issue had made it to the Delhi assembly and saw a heated discussion with rebel AAP MLA Pankaj Pushkar and BJP’s Vijender Gupta attacking AAP .

Meanwhile, restaurant owners have appealed against non-grant of new licences in Delhi high court.

Source: Times of India