Statistics compiled by the state’s Excise department show that alcohol consumption between April and June across Maharashtra was down 59 per cent as compared to the consumption level for the same period last year.
As against 24.08 crore bulk litres (bl) consumed in April-June 2019, the consumption was barely 9.89 crore bl this year. Senior excise officials and industry players indicate the recovery to 2019 consumption level may take a while.
According to Maharashtra’s Excise Commissioner Kantilal Umap, restaurants, hotels and permit rooms have over the years contributed to 50 per cent of beer consumption, 30 per cent of alcoholic spirit and 40 per cent of country liquor sales. “The trouble is these growth drivers are expected to be subdued over the near to medium term. The spending power of the salaried class has also taken a hit. This will also impact recovery,” he said.
Continuing curbs on liquor retail in Mumbai and some other cities haven’t helped either. Sumit Chawla, vice-chairman, Association of Progressive Retail Liquor Vendors, said, “Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur normally account for 60-70 per cent of liquor sales.” All of the five cities have been tagged as coronavirus hotspots. “In Mumbai, over-the-counter sales from retail liquor vends are still not permitted. This has had an impact,” he added.
Liquor sales were not permitted at all in April. But since May 4, the state government had first allowed liquor retail in non-hotspot areas and later permitted the same in red zones as well. It subsequently also allowed home delivery as an option for
IMFL and beer to avoid overcrowding at liquor stores. In Mumbai, only home deliveries have so far been permitted.
Beer, in particular, has taken the hardest hit. In 2019, beer drinkers had consumed 9.82 crore BL between April and June. A 72 per cent drop was noticed this year, with the sales of just 2.76 crore BL. “The pandemic struck at the worst possible time for the beer industry. Beer sales are usually the highest in the February-June period,” said Umap. When compared to 2019, beer sales were down 62 per cent in May and 56 per cent in June.
Alcoholic spirits (vodka, whisky, gin, rum) were more of a mixed bag and appeared to be rebounding the quickest among all segments. For May, sales were down 35 per cent as compared to 2019, but this gap had been narrowed to 8 per cent by end-June.
In some Nandurbar, Ahmednagar, Kolhapur, Satara, Ratnagiri, Raigad, and Nashik districts, the Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) sales in June had surpassed 2019 levels. “The decision to permit home deliveries has benefitted this segment the most,” an excise official said. As on July 7, of the 29.94 lakh orders of liquor home delivered, most were IMFLs. “But even in this segment, the low-prices brands were suffering. Home deliveries and e-commerce options have suited the premium segment far more,” Chawla said.
According to him, the clampdown on public and social gatherings was bound to hit the beer industry the most. A general aversion to consume drinks served cold during the pandemic and the state’s skewed taxation policy — per ml of beer is taxed way higher than IMFL and country liquor — hasn’t helped matters either.
With lakhs of labourers returning to their villages and no home deliveries of country liquor permitted, the country liquor sales were down 47 per cent in May and 15 per cent in June as compared to 2019. In the near future, industry experts feel that the bigger market players in the beer and IMFL segment will increase their market share. The state government, so far, has been pragmatic and has decided against further increasing taxes on liquor unlike some other states.
Nine-fold jump in drinking liquor permits
Over 1,38,000 people have acquired drinking liquor permits in Maharashtra during the pandemic, statistics show. This is a near nine-fold jump over the permits issued for the whole of 2019-2020 in the state.
Since May 4, when retail liquor sales resumed this financial year till June end, Maharashtra saw 1,43,656 people apply for a liquor permit, reveal Excise department’s figures. Of these, 1,38,497 applications got approved and another 663 are pending. In comparison, only 15,488 had obtained liquor permits in 2019-20.
Maharashtra is a prohibition state. You need a valid liquor permit to drink even at home. You need to be 25 years of age to consume liquor (strong beer, whisky, vodka, gin and rum), while you can consume mild beer after turning 21. According to excise officials, the move to allow home deliveries of beer and alcoholic spirits from May 15 onwards with restaurants and bars still shut has resulted in the increase in drinking permit application. As per norms, home deliveries can only be made to a permit holder.
Data also shows that the major jump in permit applications has been witnessed in coronavirus hotspots, where stricter curbs prevail on liquor retail. Nagpur (37,094) has seen the highest number of new permit applications, followed by Mumbai suburbs (23,006), Thane (14,520), Mumbai city (13,521) and Solapur (5,924).
In Nagpur, a vast majority of people have opted for one-year permits, while in Mumbai, Thane and Solapur most have preferred lifetime permits. The excise department offer one-day permits for Rs 5, one-year permits for Rs 105 and lifetime ones for Rs 1,005. Permits can be availed online. The state’s revenue from permit has increased from Rs 1.2 crore in 2019-20 to Rs 7.79 crore in the first three months of 2020-21.Unhappy hours: Maharashtra sees a sharp drop in alcohol consumption in April-June
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