Will the chaos outside liquor vends defeat all that was achieved over the last 40 days? Certainly, it could have been managed well
There is no doubt that revenues collected by States across the country have been pummelled by the 40-day shutdown. With commerce shut, Goods and Service Tax (GST) collections have collapsed. Fewer people moving around has meant petroleum taxes are minimal and most States, with the exceptions of Bihar and Gujarat, had huge revenue collections coming in from liquor sales. After losing access to beer, wine and spirits ever since the lockdown came into force, it was not just the public that wanted to enjoy a chilled beer but also various State Governments who were looking for ways to increase revenues. But much like what happened during the lockdown, a well-intentioned move to open the liquor vends has been managed haphazardly. Huge crowds, extending upto one to two kilometres were seen outside major vends. With no social distancing norms being followed, this defeated the very purpose of the last 40 days of lockdown. However, as chaos has been the order of the day in the past few weeks, with conflicting orders, shut borders and more, it seems almost asinine that a bureaucrat or politician would have believed that opening liquor stores would have been a smooth process. Even in normal times, we have seen long queues in front of liquor shops, especially on weekends. Is there a better way to do this? Maybe the Aarogya Setu application, which the Government has been touting over the past few weeks, would have helped manage the crowd, which has been abysmal in Delhi, Mumbai and other major cities across India. Of course, there are huge privacy and data security issues with any application, which must be addressed, but the only way to have assured the sale of liquor smoothly would have been to involve the application, and possibly home delivery in certain cases. This would not have been an easy fix but if the simple objective is to prevent crowding at the vends as well as hoarding, this is what should have been done. State Governments, too, need to answer on whether the additional revenues will be worth the health risk.
That said, the progress of the COVID-19 pandemic has been strange in India. Despite the fact that several malcontent commentators professed that India would see a surge of deaths, the number of deaths attributed to the pandemic has been limited. The lockdown has ensured that India has managed better than many developed countries. There has been no hard and fast science over here, nobody knows what works and what doesn’t. However, one thing is certain across the world, social distancing works. While opening the liquor vends was a smart move, it was handled poorly.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)