The New Delhi government has reversed its plans to privatize the sale of alcohol amidst opposition from the federal government.
A few months ago the Delhi city government run by the Aam Aadmi party (AAP) decided to privatize alcohol sales and extend sales hours till 3:00 AM. This resulted in massive discounts and buy one get one free offers for alcohol as government-owned alcohol outlets began emptying their stocks before the new policy would come into force.
The policy was opposed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). BJP rules at the federal level from Delhi. The lieutenant governor of Delhi is an official appointed by the federal government and from the BJP. The lieutenant governor has the final say about all policies of the Delhi government.
The BJP cricized the move towards privatization saying it was promoting intoxication with the discounts and offers which brought queues of people to alcohol outlets.
The BJP also accused the AAP of “procedural lapses” in the tendering process for awarding licences to 849 private operators. The accusation translates to corruption charges. Therefore, the federal Central Bureau of Investigation launched investigating these allegations.
Ultimately the pressure was too high for the Delhi government run by AAP and they reversed the privatization policy. On July 30, 2022 they announced the Delhi government will be taking control of the alcohol outlets again.
This led to a reduction of alcohol availability, with almost no alcohol being available in the state for a period. Alcohol outlets were shut and bars and restuarants had run out of alcohol. It is expected that the city will have no alcohol till September 1, 2022.
Delhi government track record of worsening alcohol policy
In recent years the Delhi city government has been worsening alcohol policies in the state.
- In 2021 the government made alcohol more available to young people by decreasing the legal minimum age for alcohol use from 25 years to 21 years.
- In February, 2022 alcohol availability was increased again with the reduction of dry days from 21 to 3 for this year.
Privatization of alcohol sales would have further increased alcohol availability and led to even more harm due to alcohol in Delhi.
Heavy and growing alcohol burden in India
Currently, most alcohol policies in India are subnational. This has led to a patchwork of policies which differ from state to state. A comprehensive national alcohol policy system is needed to protect Indian people from harms caused by the products and practices of the alcohol industry.
India’s alcohol burden was already heavy before the pandemic. Since the pandemic began the lethal interaction of alcohol with the coronavirus has made matters worse.
- According to OECD figures, alcohol use had risen with more than 72.5% over a period of 20 years.
- In 2017, alcohol was responsible for more than 580,000 deaths in India, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study.
- The three leading causes of alcohol attributable deaths in India are tuberculosis, road injuries, and self-harm.
- According to a report by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJE) of India, every third alcohol user in India needs help for alcohol use problems and only about 1 in 38 people with alcohol dependence, report getting any treatment or help.
- A modelling study in 2019 found that economically India loses 1.45% of its GDP due to alcohol. This is more than the country’s entire health spending which is 1.28% of its GDP. In numbers, between 2011–2050 India stands to lose US$2.2 trillion – accounting for tax revenues – due to alcohol costs.
Rising popularity of no and low alcohol products in India
The majority of people in India live free from alcohol. While the alcohol industry is pushing aggressively to convert them to alcohol consumers and to entrench a Western alcohol norm, people in India are resisting.
Non-alcoholic beers and cocktail mixers grew in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. The trend is now continuing and further accelerating. The NoLo products which used to be mostly restricted to bars and restaurants have now made their way to people’s homes. Official certification by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) as well as increasingly easy access via online sale and delivery are reasons for growing availability and popularity of NoLo products in India.
There are many other reasons why Indians are choosing NoLo products. According to Vrinda Singhal, founder and CEO of Swizzle, one reason is that people are looking for low-sugar, low-calorie options. Another reason is people who are alcohol-free want attractive, healthy products instead of alcohol, when they socialize and have fun.
Notably, some of the most popular non-alcoholic options are Big Alcohol brands, such as Coolberg, Heineken 0.0, manufactured by United Breweries, Bavaria, and Beck’s non-alcoholic beers.
Driven by this new trend towards NoLo products, companies that produce them have been growing revenues. Jimmy’s Cocktails – which makes ready-to-drink non-alcoholic mixers – started in 2019 just before the pandemic hit. The company has grown by 200%, raking in 50 crore in revenue over the last three years. While six to eight of the major cities make up 70% of of their revenues, recently the products have been expanding to smaller towns as well.
Another example is Barbican which makes eight different kinds of non-alcoholic. The company generated a revenue of 20 crore, 10% higher than the year before.
Even major alcohol companies such as AB InBev and Heineken are eager to get a piece of the growing NoLo market. However, Big Alcohol’s interest in NoLo products is reason for concern. Movendi International has previously exposed it’s just another marketing ploy.
For example, a report from the UK found some problematic and unethical ways in which Big Alcohol is marketing NoLos.
- Addition marketing. This means NoLo is marketed by alcohol companies as a product to use in addition to alcohol products. Such as on occasions where using alcohol is not an option such as at the workplace or during or after sports.
- Stealth marketing. This means promoting the alcohol brand as a whole, which includes alcoholic products and not just the NoLo products.
- This is an indirect marketing strategy that circumvents alcohol marketing laws that would apply to usual alcohol products.
The report also found the alcohol industry fueled three harmful trends with their NoLo campaigns:
- Reinforce stereotypes around gender and alcohol use.
- Continue to position alcohol use as the norm.
- Make health claims or associations that confuse consumers.
The Guardian: “Delhi drinkers left dry after government’s alcohol policy U-turn“
Financial Times: “Delhi’s drinkers face a dry summer under new alcohol rules“
Financial Express: “Non-alcoholic beverage makers on a high as demand grows“