Authorities in the Indian capital of Delhi this week introduced a 70 percent tax on retail alcohol to help prevent large gatherings, as the government attempts to slowly ease lockdown restrictions in response to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
When stores reopened on Monday as part of the gradual easing of restrictions on the world’s largest nationwide lockdown, police baton-charged the hundreds of people violating social distancing measures by crowding liquor shops after six weeks of closure.
The quarantine measures, scheduled to run until at least May 17, have undoubtedly had a devastating impact on the country’s economy. Alcohol sales are especially important as they are a vital source of revenue across all of India’s 36 regions, many of which are now desperately low on funds because of the lack of income.
In an announcement Monday, the Delhi state government announced a “special corona fee” to be levied on all sales of alcohol.
“It was unfortunate that chaos was seen at some shops in Delhi,” said Arvind Kejriwal, the state’s chief minister. “If we come to know about violations of social distancing and other norms from any area, then we will have to seal the area and revoke the relaxations there.”
Who would have thought that one day drinking alcohol would be the most patriotic act. Our Economy Warriors hard at work from the crack of dawn to increase India’s GDP! https://t.co/7NMUkioZmc
— Rohini Singh (@rohini_sgh) May 4, 2020
Other states, including southern Andhra Pradesh, have also raised taxes after hundreds of people queued up outside shops for alcohol. One senior bureaucrat told the Times of India that, in the state of Maharashtra, alcohol sales broke records.
In Nainital, challenging weather conditions including torrential rain and outbreaks of hail also failed to deter customers seeking their fix of alcohol, with hundreds of people seen queuing outside stores with umbrellas.
The government said the move was aimed at discouraging liquor consumption. The shops had reopened on Monday with a hike of 25 per cent in liquor prices. pic.twitter.com/u3cb6rO5f6
— IANS Tweets (@ians_india) May 5, 2020
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in charge of Mumbai state withdrew the relaxation measures on Tuesday over fears it might lead to another outbreak after liquor stores reported a six-fold increase in sales. As a result, some people have crossed into neighboring states to buy their alcohol.
The surge in demand for alcohol is particularly concerning for Indian authorities given the fact that the country reported its largest single-day increase of coronavirus cases on Tuesday, meaning it still could be far from reaching its peak.
The 3,900 new infections took the country’s overall number of cases to 46,432, from which at least 1,568 people have died. The figures are still relatively low given India’s population of around 1.3 billion, with the country reporting fewer cases than far smaller countries including Canada, Belgium, and Peru.