In a significant decision, the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra on Thursday permitted all supermarkets to sell wine manufactured in the state as part of the new wine policy, officials said.
The decision was taken by the state Cabinet presided over by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray - and it immediately attracted flak from the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Interestingly, the move comes a week after neighbouring Madhya Pradesh permitted liquor sales at all its airports, select supermarkets in four major cities and also allowed issuing home bar licences to those earning Rs 1 crore or more annually.
Briefing the media, Nationalist Congress Party Minister Nawab Malik said that supermarkets with a minimum area of 1,000 sq ft or more shall be allowed to sell wine - as opposed to beers and other liquors - under the new policy enacted last year after the earlier 20-year-old policy lapsed.
The state has around four-dozen wineries, most centred in Nashik district which accounts for 80 per cent of the wine produced in India, besides small wineries in other districts like Ahmednagar, Sangli, Pune, Solapur and Buldhana.
The country's fledgling wine industry is worth around Rs 1,000 crore with Maharashtra, a pioneering state in this sector, contributing nearly two-third to the revenue.
BJP Leader of Opposition, Devendra Fadnavis, and others slammed the government move, terming it as the MVA's special love for the liquor industry, just like its decisions to lift the prohibition in Chandrapur, cut in excise duty on imported liquor from 300 per cent to 150 per cent etc.
"We shall not allow Maharashtra to become a ‘madya-rashtra'," said Fadnavis, even as other leaders and women's groups criticised the decision.
The MVA government defended the move by saying that it will benefit the fruit farmers who supply their produce to wineries for making wines, besides generating some revenue for the state exchequer.
Most wines have very low alcohol content as compared to hard liquor and many restaurants and bakeries also use wine in certain food-making processes, notably the popular wine or rum cakes.
Bengal Mulling To Bring Alcohol At Doorsteps
The Mamata Banerjee government had devised unique projects like - 'Duare Sarkar' (Government at the Doorstep) and 'Duare Ration' (Ration at the Doorstep) bringing the government projects and the ration at the doorsteps of the people.
Following the line, the state government is now mulling to develop an e-retail system of wine so that alcohol can be delivered to households. The new proposal has been mocked as 'Duare Mod' (Alcohol at the Doorstep) by the opposition.
According to the state excise department, the process of e-retailing system of alcohol started in August last year when the 'West Bengal State Beverages Corporation (BEVCO) invited applications for the interested companies and accordingly many companies applied with the guarantee money of Rs 25,000. The BEVCO also had a condition that alcohol should be supplied only to the customers who are above 18 years old.
Asked how the companies will be determining the age of the customer, a senior official of the state excise department said: "We will definitely devise a mechanism and the companies will have to follow the process. This is one of the main criterions of the supply".
After careful consideration BEVCO finalised four companies - one from West Bengal and three others from Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore. "The negotiations are at the final stage and after that BEVCO will be signing a Memo-of-Understanding (MoU) with these companies. The conditions will be framed and the distribution area will be fixed. We hope to start the distribution by the beginning of the next financial year," the official said.
The sources in the excise department also said that four companies - 'Bajimat Drinks, Nature's Basket', 'Dunjo Digital' and Platinus Analytics have been finalised. "BEVCO will be organising a meeting with all these companies by the first week of February and the MoU will be signed. The companies would be buying alcohol from the retail shops and then they would be supplying it as the desired location. Initially the supply will be restricted to the Kolkata and Greater Kolkata area and depending on the popularity and success the supply would be made available to the entire state," the official said.
This is not the first time but during the lockdown period in 2020 BEVCO had tried to make similar attempts and the e-retailing system was made available through the portal of the mother-body but it was not popular because there was no proper distribution system. So, this time BEVCO decided to start to hire professional companies that will be capable of making the supply effectively.