Mumbai: On Tuesday, the second day of lockdown 3.0, which was extended from Monday for another 14 days in red zones across the country, including Mumbai, to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak, people were seen standing in queues, stretching up to 2km, in front of liquor stores, as alcohol vied for attention among essential services amid the pandemic.
The queues were longer on Tuesday since many liquor stores in the city remained shut on Monday when lockdown restrictions were eased.
There was a heavy police deployment in front of most liquor stores that opened on Tuesday morning while adhering to strict social distancing norms.
In the central suburbs of Mumbai, serpentine queues stretched from Sion circle to the Sion railway station, as over 70 people were seen standing in a queue braving the summer heat. In the adjoining neighbourhood of Matunga, the queue stretched from Matunga market to King’s Circle and from Kohinoor electronics lane to Chitra cinema in Dadar.
People were seen wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) kits such as masks or made makeshift arrangements like tying scarfs on their heads, caps or even thick cardboards to beat the scorching heat.
Though the Maharashtra government allowed liquor stores to open from Monday, respective district collectors were empowered to grant permission to them to operate. Many liquor stores remained closed on Monday, as the permission letter was made available to the owners only after 2 pm.
“We decided to operate from Tuesday,” said Naresh Shetty, owner, Bombay Wine Merchants at Lalbaug.
Excise officials were at a loss to explain the quantum of liquor sale amid expectations that the volume would likely to surge, as many people have been craving for a drink since the nationwide lockdown restrictions, which were initially enforced for 21 days since March 25 and then further extended for another 19 days till May 3 to rein in the pandemic, came into force.
State excise commissioner Kantilal Umap said it was difficult to get the exact figures of daily liquor consumption.
“The excise department gets its revenue from duty and sales tax when liquor is dispatched from manufacturers to wholesalers. We don’t monitor its consumption. But, now we’re trying to estimate the volume of daily sale,” said Umap.
Maharashtra consumes around 86 crore litres of liquor annually, which works out to daily consumption of around 24 lakh litres.
Some liquor stores in the city decided not to open their shops on Tuesday because of a massive rush of customers and coupled with an acute staff crunch due to the ongoing lockdown restrictions.