Social distancing norms tossed aside as crowds throng liquor shops - again
A day after lockdown curbs were eased and liquor shops opened across large parts of India, triggering near riot situations, lakhs of people lined up or gathered outside from early morning
Undeterred by steep price hikes or the urgent need to maintain distance, impatient crowds were back outside liquor vends on Tuesday, pushing and jostling in many places as they sought to lay their hands on a bottle of their favourite tipple.
A day after lockdown curbs were eased and liquor shops opened across large parts of India, triggering near riot situations, lakhs of people lined up or gathered outside from early morning, counting the hours for the shutters to go up and then more hours till they reached the counter.
The scenes played out in towns and rural centres in states such as Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Delhi, just as they did on Monday, the fear of COVID-19 eclipsed by the eagerness to access alcohol after more than 40 dry days.
On Tuesday, the Andhra Pradesh government enhanced prices by 50 per cent, over the 25 per cent hike it had imposed the day before. Late on Monday, the Delhi government announced a 70 per cent special corona fee' on alcohol.
But it clearly didn't matter much, not to casual drinkers who wanted to stock up their bars and not to the more serious tipplers and addicts reduced to despair without any alcohol. The price, whether of premium scotch or wine or of humbler spirits, was of no consequence it seemed.
It's not the cost. It's the availability that matters right now. See the crowd even though the shop has not opened yet, said Prateek Singh, a student, pointing to the crowds outside a liquor shop in east Delhi's Shakarpur locality early in the morning.
Ayush, who works in a private company was waiting near him to buy his booze. He said he was not a regular drinker and the price did not really matter.
"Everything is costly during lockdown. Prices of food items are more than usual. The hike is exorbitant but still I am here to buy because it has been more than a month since I had a drink, he said nonchalantly.
Not far away from Shakarpur, in Vishwas Nagar police personnel wielding sticks tried to bring order to a long snaking queue of eager buyers, closely packed together as they shoved and shuffled their way to the shop.
I haven't had a drink for 42 days. So let me have it today, said a man in the queue as police struggled to maintain discipline.
Similar scenes were seen in Jheel Khurenja and Kalyanpuri.
In some places, restless crowds milled around and had to be chased away and dispersed.
About 150 government-run liquor shops have been allowed to open from 9 am to 6.30 pm in the national capital in accordance with the latest lockdown relaxations allowed by the Ministry of Home Affairs. On Monday, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said in a stern message that all relaxations in the areas where people violate social-distancing and other health norms will be withdrawn.
Clearly, not many people paid heed.
Bharat Kumar, a resident of Burari, waited an hour and a half to buy three bottles even though he had reached before the shop opened.
Asked about the government's decision to impose a hefty 'corona fee' to discourage tipplers, he said, "It will not affect us. People will get liquor from Gurgaon, Noida and Ghaziabad." There were also those who still could not manage to buy liquor for the second day.
"I searched for some shops in Krishna Nagar but there were long queues of around 400-500 people. It's not fair, the government has raised the price so much and still there are problems if one tries to buy it," said Raj Kumar, 38, in east Delhi.
They came in their cars, two wheelers and some walking, all in the quest for the longed for bottle of alcohol.
And not just in Delhi.
Come rain, hail or hot summer sun, they wanted their alcohol at any cost.
From the hill town of Nainital came videos on social media of people standing under umbrellas in the hail waiting a suitable distance from each other to get to the liquor shop.
Serpentine lines going round the corner and beyond formed in many parts of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, West Bengal and Maharashtra among other places
Andhra Pradesh Special Chief Secretary (Revenue) Rajat Bhargava said the increase in liquor rates was to 'discourage' people from consumption and safeguard health.
In Jodhpur, security personnel used batons to disperse crowds waiting to buy alcohol in a bid to reinforce social distancing norms.
And in Kolkata, long queues were seen outside standalone liquor shops with either police or local administration ensuring that tipplers maintain social distancing.
In the Karnataka capital Bengaluru, as if proving right the naysayers, drunken brawls claimed two lives.
A man in his mid-thirties was stabbed to death by his friend after an altercation at a party organised to celebrate the resumption of alcohol sale on Monday as part of the easing of lockdown restrictions.
In the second incident, a youth was beaten to death by his friend in an inebriated state.
In a bid to reduce the crowds, the Chhattisgarh government launched a web portal for home delivery of liquor in green zones of the state.
Some states like Kerala and Madhya Pradesh have kept liquor shops closed. The Tamil Nadu government has announced resumption of liquor sales from May 7.
Liquor sales are an important source of revenue for states.
According to All India Brewers' Association (AIBA) Director General Shobhan Roy, the liquor industry contributes around Rs 2.5 lakh crore to the exchequers of the state government.
It is the revenue of Rs 250 lakh crore which the state government gets from the liquor industry. As liquor is only state subject, centre does not get any stare in that, he said.
The industry size is around 330 million cases of beer (9 litres each), 350 million cases of spirits and 300 million cases of country liquor.