Delhi reduces legal drinking age to 21 from 25; restaurateurs cheer move

Apart from the prospects of greater footfall, pub and bar owners are excited over the additional students’ community crowd that they can now welcome
In a bid to raise the amount of excise duty collected from liquor sales, the Delhi government has lowered the legal drinking age in the Capital to 21 years, from the earlier 25. It will also shut down government-run stores, which currently account for close to 60 per cent of the 850 outlets serving consumers. 

The move is expected to benefit restaurant and pub owners, apart from opening up new business opportunities for private liquor store businesses.

Manish Sisodia, deputy chief minister of Delhi, announced at a press conference that a new excise policy has been approved by the Delhi Cabinet on the basis of recommendations made by a Group of Ministers. “It was (also) decided that no new liquor shops will be opened in the Capital, and the government will not run any more (such) shops,” he said.

The move was cheered by restaurant owners in the Capital. Apart from the prospect of greater footfall, pub and bar owners are excited as they can now also serve the student community. According to the Delhi government’s estimates, the move will help it add 20 per cent more excise duty revenue in the coming months. In 2019-20, the local administration had collected some Rs 5,400 crore in revenue from liquor sales.

“The National Restaurants Association of India (NRAI) warmly welcomes and profusely thanks the Delhi government for this progressive and forward-thinking decision. We have been making requests for amending some of the archaic laws for a very long time and we are very pleased that our efforts have finally borne fruit,” said Anurag Katriar, president, NRAI. 

Rahul Singh, co-founder of Beer Café, a pubs chain with over 40 outlets, termed the changes progressive. “Lowering the age to 21 is progressive and pragmatic. In any case, underage consumers were breaking the law in unsupervised spaces such as house parties.  This change in policy would now legally permit license holders to serve alcohol safely in a regulated environment under supervision,” he said. Further, through the new policy, the government will move out of the liquor business in Delhi. No new liquor stores will be added by the Delhi government in the future. 

The move was a result of recommendations made by an expert panel that the government had formed. The panel had also recommended issuing retail licenses to departmental stores.

According to Sisodia, the new measures are aimed at reducing the scope of the illegal liquor sales racket.  

While there are some 850 legal outlets, close to 2,000 illegal ones cater to the market, leading to a huge loss in excise revenue. Inconsistent distribution of outlets in the city is a key factor that has given rise to this situation.

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