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Poll heat is drying up liquor vends



Strict law enforcement leaves no fizz in the liquor biz before polls, making it one of the driest ever

A wine store in Bengaluruwithout a single customer at the counter on a weekend is unimaginable. But that is what hundreds of them have been like in the last two weeks. With the Excise authorities (with the Election Commission in charge) strictly implementing the rules, wine stores are empty, dhabas on highways are starving for business and stocks of many brands of liquor have run out. Licences of many wine stores have been suspended. The cats have been belled and the liquor business has lost its fizz. This election is turning out to be the driest ever.

No licence, no serve

Hundreds of CL-2 licence (retail shop licence) that doubled as watering holes are now literally out of business. As per rules, they are allowed to only sell liquor. They cannot serve liquor on their premises. Only establishments with CL-9 licences (bars and restaurants) can serve alcohol.

Till recently, CL-2 licence-holders freely served liquor on their premises. Many supplied food to patrons as well and for all practical purposes, functioned like CL-9 licence-holders. A full stop has been imposed on this now. So, customers are keeping away. The excise authorities have finally implemented the rules as there is no political pressure preventing them. The CL-2 stores are now barred from selling even bottled water, to prevent tipplers sidestepping the rules.

Dhabas on highways are popular places for an evening out for the weekend crowd. It is also the pit stop for long-distance travellers. These food joints are popular also because they serve liquor sourced from the nearest wine store. However, they do not have any licence to do so. The authorities have shut down this practice in the last two weeks.

Licences of many liquor stores have been suspended for violation of rules. Some of them approached the High Court with the plea that licences are being suspended for even minor discrepancies in the accounts where a fine would have sufficed.

A department circular on April 18 had directed the district excise officials to suspend the licence of all liquor stores that had violated rules. The authorities ended up suspending licenses of liquor stores that had even minor violations. These were mostly CL-2 licensees.

But a revised circular on April 25 directed them to suspend licences only in cases of serious violation of rules. A memo was filed by the department before the HC in this regard.

Stocks are running out

For tipplers, the only option is to go to a CL-9 bar and restaurant. But here, they are facing another problem. Many of the popular, large-volume brands are out of stock. Let alone hard liquor, buying even a bottle of beer is a big challenge.

Stocks are supplied by the Karnataka State Beverages Corporation Limited (KSBCL), which has a monopoly. “For April, only the quantity supplied in April of 2017 was provided. Business was low last year due to demonetisation. It is better this year. So, most stores exhausted their stocks by April 20.

They promised fresh stock from April 2. We are not sure,” said a licence holder.

Who knew a beer would be this hard to come by in Bengaluru? However, those who sorely need a drink are turning to microbreweries, which make their own craft beer. Pravesh Pandey, of Big Brewsky, Sarjapur Road, confirmed that compared to March, footfall had increased by 10.8% and beer sales had gone up by 11.1% in April. In fact compared to the first week of April, they saw an increase of 13.75% in beer sales and 11.9% in footfall. What are you drinking tonight?

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