AGENCIES, Mumbai/Bengaluru/Kolkata: Alcohol prices in the grey market have more than quadrupled and online searches for how to make homemade alcohol have soared during the nationwide coronavirus lockdown, with bars and liquor stores shut for weeks across most parts of the country.
Many are turning to illegal liquor, say customs and police officials, who have seen a marked increase in seizures of hooch, which has in the past claimed thousands of lives among the poor unable to afford branded booze.
“I paid 700 rupees for a 170 rupees whisky bottle,” said Manish, who was asked to visit a nearby milk shop in Mumbai at dawn to take delivery clandestinely. “Many are willing to pay even higher prices for liquor, but can’t get any. I was lucky as I at least got some,” he added.
According to Google Trends, online searches for ‘how to make alcohol at home’ peaked in India during the week of March 22-28, the same week Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed the nationwide lockdown.
In late March, grey-market sellers were charging double the price, but premiums have been rising daily with liquor shops being sealed to prevent illegal sales, say excise officials.
“Even habitual drinkers hold limited stocks which must have been exhausted by now. In coming weeks, more and more consumers will try to buy from the grey market,” said an excise official from Maharashtra.
As branded liquor prices have surged, some consumers such as Naresh, from Indore, have been forced to drink homemade drinks known as country liquor. “Even hooch is so expensive. In normal circumstances I could have bought branded liquor at this price,” he said, declining to give his family name.
More than a dozen consumers spoke to Reuters and said a 180 ml hooch bottle was now selling at over 250 rupees, up from roughly 60 rupees.