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At least three states have allowed home delivery of liquor after witnessing crowds and lengthy queues when liquor stores reopened after 40 days.

Home delivery is a key step in easing overcrowding and ensuring social distancing in India, among the world’s largest liquor consumers despite taboos around alcoholic beverages, said experts.

As of now, the governments of Punjab, Chhattisgarh, and West Bengal have permitted the online sale of liquor, in what appears like a big leap for a country where states such as Bihar, Gujarat, Mizoram, and Nagaland, as well as the Union territory of Lakshadweep have banned the sale of alcohol.

Official permission to sell alcohol and the long queues outside stores have somewhat legitimised that liquor is very much a part of life in India, said Pulkit Sharma, a clinical psychologist. Clearly, home delivery further legitimises drinking in a country that has traditionally looked down up it.

However, Santosh Desai, managing director and chief executive officer at Futurebrands India and an expert on consumer behaviour, doesn’t think stigma will go away as a result of this measure. “It is deeply entrenched," he said.

Online liquor sales come at a time when the government has been squeezed for revenues in view of the economic slowdown owing to the covid-19 outbreak. Tax on liquor seems like a low hanging fruit for state governments to garner revenue, which has dried up. The sector contributes roughly 2.5 trillion in taxes earned by states every year.

However, the increased taxes and delivery fee will ensure that only rich and upper middle classes can afford to get liquor home delivered. It would definitely bring down the overcrowding problem across shops.

Industry bodies have pressed for home deliveries, as well as online platforms controlled by state governments and state excise departments that can enable online ordering for liquor.

The International Spirits & Wines Association of India (ISWAI), the apex industry body that represents several large alcohol companies in India such as Diageo, Pernod Ricard, and Bacardi, has been rooting for opening up of home deliveries and online sales of liquor in the country.

At the moment, there is no clear policy that governs home delivery of alcohol as the category is highly regulated and is a state subject.

saumya.t@livemint.com

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