BH CORRESPONDENT, Kolkata, New Delhi: Hours after liquor stores re-opened across India on Monday morning, many shops across the country shut again as huge crowds gathered outside the outlets, flouting social distancing norms.
Last week, as the nationwide shutdown to check the spread of coronavirus was extended by another two weeks, the Union Home Ministry said that except in containment areas, standalone liquor shops can reopen across the country. These shops should not be located in markets and malls in urban areas, the government said, adding that minimum six-feet social distancing should be ensured, while no more than five people are allowed inside a shop at a time. Across India, the COVID-19 count has crossed the 40,000-mark, more than 1,300 people have died.
In Delhi, policemen were seen resorting to force in several parts of the city as they tried to control crowds outside liquor stores. Nearly 100 liquor shops were permitted to open in the national capital that has over 90 containment zones; the city has so far reported over 4,500 COVID-19 cases and 64 deaths.
Similar scenes were witnessed in Kolkata with people lining up outside liquor and wine stores since morning. The cops had a trying time ensuring that social distancing norms are maintained. Many stores shut down hours after opening unable to cope with the rush. Amid a lack of clarity over re-opening of alcohol shops in Bengal, Kolkata Police used batons to disperse crowds outside an outlet in Kalighat area.
In Haryana, the shops remain shut as the district excise and taxation department has not received any fresh directive from the state government. Like Haryana, Punjab has also not allowed the resumption of sale of alcohol.
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In Maharashtra, the worst-hit state in the country, only five shops selling non-essential items are allowed in each lane. “Even in the red zone districts, there are some areas where coronavirus infection has been not prevalent since over a month now. Shops selling non-essential commodities, like clothes, footwear, liquor and stationery will be re-opened in such parts,” state’s principal secretary Bhushan Gagrani told reporters on Sunday.
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Liquor shops have been allowed to open across Uttar Pradesh between 10am and 7pm. In Lucknow, the state’s capital, long queues were seen outside the outlets before they re-opened this morning. Senior excise department officials inspected stores across the city to ensure social distancing norms. In rural parts, no queues were seen outside the shops. Excise is a major revenue generator for UP, second only to GST collections. In April, excise collections were only a little over 1 per cent of the projected collections by the state government. Many say this has prompted the re-opening of liquor stores.
Madhya Pradesh will re-open the outlets from Tuesday except in cities like Indore, Bhopal and Ujjain that are severely-hit by the outbreak.
#LiquorShops opening would cause nothing but a disaster! Increase in domestic violence, crime rates, fatalities and therefore obviously huge spike in #Corona cases.
Worst decision till date by the government! pic.twitter.com/hi54FIGrqZ
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Hours before the shutters went up, queues were seen outside many outlets in Karnataka where shops have been allowed to open between 9am to 7pm. No snacks and water can be sold in these shops, social distancing must be maintained and masks must be used by the people selling liquor at the shops, the state government has said.
Andhra Pradesh has allowed the sale of alcohol with a prohibition tax. “We are taking the measure to open liquor shops in the state for revenue consideration but the government is concerned about the bad effects of alcohol consumption. So we are imposing prohibition tax on that, the amount will be decided soon,” Rajat Bhargava, special chief secretary told reporters on Sunday, news agency ANI reported. Around 3,500 outlets have been permitted to re-open.