Uttar Pradesh: Day one witnesses a cocktail of scarcity and confusion

Liquor shops in Uttar Pradesh (UP) largely served a cocktail of confusion and scarcity to the people on Sunday, the opening day of the new-look liquor trade in the state.

Some liquor shops did open as per new, reduced timings – 12 noon to 10 pm –instead of the previous 9 am to 11 pm. But timings hardly mattered as majority of the shops remained shut for most of the day.

Beer was mostly missing and so was scotch – the premium high end whisky.

Fewer supplies of countrymade and cheap Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL), that some shops across the state got, were exhausted in no time, making it, what some liquor sellers said, a “virtual dry day” in the state.

What’s more, as some liquor sellers fear, the situation may take a few days to ease out.

“I guess it would take at least a week or may be more for the supplies to normalise,” a liquor trader said.

Around 9 pm, some liquor sellers in the state admitted that they got some beer supplies. “But the 10 pm closure time meant we hardly had anytime to chill the bottles,” a beer shop owner said.

As per the new excise policy, the state government has replaced the system of using holograms on bottles with ‘track and trace’ system to check smuggling. It has further barred cash transactions above Rs 30000 for picking liquor stock from the whole sale traders.

“With this, all I could purchase was 5 cartons of liquor that was hardly enough. Today the banks were closed and hence real time gross settlement (RTGS) wasn’t possible. Yesterday due to financial yearend the banks despite being ordered open by the government were more interested in settling their accounts than entertaining us,” a liquor trader said.

Sunday was the first day of the changeover that BJP government has put in place for the liquor trade in the state, ending the decade old excise policies pursued first by the Bahujan Samaj Party government and later followed by the Samajwadi Party government.

Before it handed over power to the BJP, the Samajwadi Party government had okayed the two-year contract for liquor trade. This made the BJP government wait for a year to effect changes in the trade, UP’s excise minister Jai Pratap Singh said.

The government has also ended the special excise zone and monopoly in the state’s wholesale trade. However, some of the new players in the state’s whole sale trade panicked when confronted with a sudden swell in demands.

“Initially we were told that cheques would be accepted. Then it was decided that cheques won’t be accepted. The cap on cash purchase compounded the problems,” liquor sellers said.

The government has also done away with the system of annual renewal and manual two-year allotment process was replaced by e-lottery which required liquor traders to furnish, among other things, a certificate approving their financial standing.

While majority of the 26000 odd liquor shops in the state has been allotted after three rounds of e-tender, still a few hundred shops, mostly countrymade, across the state are yet to be allotted.

“I guess there are nine new players in the whole sale market of the state capital. Through out the state the trade has opened up a lot with the arrival of new players but it would take time for things to work out,” an excise department official said.