This may be the world’s smallest ‘cheers’ altogether: In less than 24 hours after TOI reported Chandrashekhar Bawankule, Minister for Maharashtra state excise, as saying that the Maharashtra government was in the “last stage of finalising” an online liquor delivery policy, Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis told another TOI reporter that “No such decision has been taken and neither will it be taken.”

For e-delivery of liquor

  • According to Bawankule, e-delivery of liquor would curb drunk driving and subsequent loss of life.
  • Bawankule mentioned that to ensure that customers of such platforms were of-age to buy liquor, all their details including Aadhaar number, would be used to verify their age. Customers would also have ‘drinking permit numbers’ which could be checked.
  • Bawankule also said that the government was in the final stages of geo-tagging liquor bottles to keep track of their manufacturing and sale.

However, the other TOI report stated that after this policy was announced, the excise department was “flooded with protests” from unknown entities as well as a doctor saying that this was a bad idea.

MediaNama spoke with an excise department official today who said that the policy was only in a draft stage, it was undergoing a discussion in the department, and not a law which had been passed.

In the age of regulation

State regulators in Karnataka at least are not keen on speaking with alcohol delivery or even concierge delivery services like Dunzo: “Why should we talk to [Dunzo]?” Rajendra Prasad, an excise official in Bangalore told MediaNama in September. In 2016, GetTalli had to shut down after the Chandigarh police ordered liquor online, and charged and arrested the startup’s two cofounders with criminal conspiracy, fraud, and a state law prohibiting “unlawful import, export, transport, manufacture, possession, etc”. GetTalli said that it procured liquor from government authorised vendors and delivered it to the user’s doorstep. Following this, Dunzo also shuttered delivering alcohol because of the noise made around online liquor delivery in Karnataka.

There is currently no regulation around the delivery of alcohol. It is important to note that every state usually formulates its own regulations, since this is an excise matter. However, despite this, there are multiple online liquor delivery services available across the country. It is unclear where these companies source their liquor from, and whether indeed they have a license to sell liquor.  

Some questions

  • Online liquor delivery is a very slippery slope which needs a lot of discussion before it gets formulated into a policy.
  • While the excise department may be looking at generating excess revenue and cutting down on drunk-driving incidents, regulation may not be the way towards it.
  • For one, liquor delivery startups may be required to get a license of a whole new category, even if they are just ‘platforms’ or middlemen procuring from an authorised liquor vendor to deliver. What sort of a license would this be? What all would it cover?
  • If they are not platforms, and probably an offline vendor going online, what checks and balances would be in place?
  • What sort of rules would need to be in place to protect the consumer from being scammed, or getting fake liquor, or overpaying? Look at the website LiquorKart: its about us page is stuffed with “lorem ipsum” text. Would you be comfortable buying liquor from a website which doesn’t have an authentic ‘about us’ or ‘contact us’? (Sorry LiquorKart, you oughta do better than that.)

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Are you a liquor delivery company or a regulator? Tell us your views about this on: sneha@medianama.com. We may publish your responses with your permission.