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Siddharth Banerji, managing director of alcoholic beverages company Kyndal Group, which sells brands such as The Macallan, The Famous Grouse, Bootz Rum and Cutty Sark in the Indian market, isn’t someone who suffers fools or minces his words. He is unequivocal about his views on the liquor industry—consumption trends and the pressing need to promote responsible drinking in India. He is also amused by people jumping the gun and celebrating the amended Delhi excise rules proposing home delivery of alcohol—the fine print for which is yet not available.

Ten days ago, the Delhi government allowed home delivery of alcohol through web portals and mobile apps—by provisioning it in the Delhi Excise (Amendment) Rules, 2021. The rules, published in a gazette notification, said L-13 licence holders will be permitted to carry out home delivery of liquor.

“The licensee (L-13 holder) shall make delivery of liquor at the residences only if the order is received through a mobile app or online web portal, and no delivery shall be made to any hostel, office and institution. The licensee shall not sell liquor to any person for consumption ‘on’ the premises," it said.

Several liquor firms Mint spoke to said the details of the policy, allowing home delivery in Delhi, have not been spelt out. Avneet Singh, the founder of Medusa Beverages, which retails liquor in Delhi and Punjab, said there’s no clarity on who will be eligible for the licence. “The fine print is still awaited," he said.

Kyndal’s Banerji agreed. “It is still an idea that will need clarity based on the complete guidelines issued by the government," he said, adding that even the L-13 licence is under formulation.

The buzz in the alco-bev industry is that each licence will cost 200-300 crore. And that food aggregators such as Swiggy and Zomato may enter the fray.

But this is speculative at this moment because home delivery of alcohol is not akin to online shopping for groceries or clothes. Or ordering restaurant food.

“You need comprehensive regulations and safeguards for selling liquor online and need to tread with a lot of caution," Banerji said, adding that even some developed markets do not allow the sale of hard liquor online.

He said even in states where home delivery has been permitted, it is really not a full-blown online model. It is more like placing orders for groceries from the neighbourhood store through a phone call.

Most developed countries follow global standards, which include improving safety and security measures to prevent minors from purchasing alcohol and establishing national-level regulations and practices for the online purchase and sale of alcohol.

It is also important to provide information and create awareness on platforms to help reduce dangerous drinking. This includes establishing national drinking standards and messages warning minors against consuming alcohol, drinking during pregnancy or drunk driving.

“Various studies show that in the 80s and 90s, Indians consumed alcohol to get drunk. The idea was to let it hit you. Fortunately, that number has come down to 60%, at least in urban India," said Banerji.

With the entry of foreign brands, consumers are trading up, especially the millennials. Also, more men and women are drinking “on premise", that is, in pubs, bars and restaurants.

Alcohol consumption in India is an evolutionary journey and, therefore, ample safeguards are required before allowing online shopping and home delivery. Medusa’s Singh said some rules may also be needed on cross-border selling in the online format as that may affect state revenues. “Obviously, the government would not like to lose its revenue," he said. Besides, some apps have already come up to sell liquor online, which may not have licences, he added.

Additionally, easy access to alcohol is detrimental to the vulnerable members of society who may be living with mental health issues and substance abuse disorders, said Banerji.

“The process and compliance regulations for alcohol delivery will vary from the delivery of groceries or essentials. Moreover, the possibility of alcohol being seized during transit and the adulteration of alcohol by private players cannot be ruled out either," he added.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pre-ssing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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