Allow liquor sales in lockdown: Talking point for many CMs in Modi meeting

Several states are keen the Centre allows sale of liquor
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh will lead the charge on the behest of his counterparts from other states to demand that liquor sale be allowed during the national lockdown to contain the coronavirus outbreak, when they meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi through video conferencing on Monday.

Liquor sales are an important source of revenue for states, and those ruled by parties opposed to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have complained they are working under severe financial without the Centre giving them assistance. 

Delhi, Punjab, Kerala and Haryana are among states concerned at losing revenue, saying they have detected significant liquor smuggling. In Punjab, the state police have in recent days uncovered instances of manufacture and sale of illicit liquor as well.

At a webinar with nearly 100 industrialists and senior executives, foreign envoys and others on Friday, Singh bemoaned the Centre rejecting Punjab government’s request for allowing liquor sales. He said Punjab has incurred revenue losses of Rs 6,200 crore because of the ban on liquor sales during the lockdown period.

Several states are keen the Centre allows sale of liquor. BJP-ruled Assam and Meghalaya had ordered opening of distilleries and liquor sales to resume when a three-week lockdown was about to end on April 14 but was extended till May 3.

BJP-ruled Haryana was also keen to start liquor sales. However, in its consolidated guidelines issued on April 15, a day after the PM extended the lockdown, the Centre asked state governments to not allow liquor sales.

At the webinar, the Punjab CM said the Centre should compensate states for this revenue loss. Singh said he will raise these concerns during Monday’s video conference with the PM, and “also again raise the issue of reopening alcohol business to generate revenue”.

Singh said Punjab was a small state, and wondered how the Centre expected it to cope with the current crisis without GST and without liquor sales.

“What's the connection between coronavirus and liquor sale? Coronavirus spreads through mucus. You have allowed vegetables to be sold in the open. But, what's the logic behind banning the sale of liquor in sealed bottles? This is affecting state revenue,” Singh said on Thursday after the Union Home Ministry rejected Punjab’s demand on this issue.

In Delhi, the police and excise department have arrested people selling or transporting alcohol illegally. It has seized 8,400 liquor bottles, arrested over a dozen people, including a Delhi Police constable and a milkman. It also intercepted an ambulance, which was illegally transporting 25 cartons of liquor. The government has warned clubs that they could be blacklisted if they are found selling their stock.

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