The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Off-the-shelf beer hits court hurdle

New Delhi, Oct. 28: Beer guzzlers have to just bear it with a grin.

Even before they could believe their good fortune, the Delhi government’s scheme for allowing department stores to sell beer has run into trouble after two persons filed a public interest litigation (PIL) against the move in Delhi High Court.

A couple of months ago, the state government had decided to allow department stores to sell beer and wine like other fast moving consumer items, thinking it would liberalise liquor sales in the city.

The move was also intended to draw potential customers who are reluctant to be seen shopping at government-run liquor outlets.

The scheme, to have become operational by Diwali, would also have given a fillip to the government’s sagging revenues.

Not so any more.

Whether supermarkets in Delhi will ever be allowed to stock beer will depend on the outcome of the PIL. Justice Anil Dev Singh and Justice R.S. Sodhi have directed the state excise department to file its reply tomorrow.

The petition argues that selling beer in department stores would encourage alcohol consumption among youth and contends that people below 21 years should not be allowed to buy beer and wine from such stores.

“If tomorrow department stores are opened in my locality, will my children be able to resist the temptation'” asked Sugriva Dubey, who filed the public interest litigation.

Dubey argues that the scheme violates Article 48 of the Constitution which directs the government to discourage sale of liquor.

Jitender Nagpal, a well-known psychologist, supports Dubey. He says such open sale of beer could promote high-risk behaviour, as most Indian youngsters do not know when to stop.

Earlier, the excise department had prepared the draft on the department store scheme and routed it to the government. The draft has still to be cleared by chief minister Sheila Dikshit.

The draft outlines the Congress-led government’s policy on starting beer sale in department stores. Sources said only stores with a built-up area of around 1,000 square feet would be given liquor licences. The store-owners would not be able to employ saleswomen as, according to the Excise Act, women are barred from doubling up as bartenders.

Though revellers had welcomed this scheme, it appears to be jinxed.

The other part of this scheme — that of placing orders for one’s favourite brand through Internet — has been withdrawn by the government following resistance from politicians. With Assembly elections due in another year, quite a few Congress MLAs are opposed to this idea on the ground that it would not go down well in their constituencies.

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