On Friday (19 June 2020), West Bengal State Beverages Corporation, which is the official authority that decides on the online trade of liquor in the eastern state of West Bengal, issued a notice authorizing the e-commerce giant Amazon to carry out online retail of liquor trade in the state. It said that Amazon was among the companies that were found eligible for the registration with authorities.
Along with Amazon, online grocery platform Alibaba-backed BigBasket also got the approval to deliver liquor from the state-owned BevCo. It will be the companies’ first foray into the country’s liquor delivery segment. The companies have been invited to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the state. Mr. Hari Menon, CEO BigBasket, told PTI “I cannot confirm now how soon we will start, but yes it will be the first for the company.” However, Amazon did not comment on the approval.
The news comes about a month after West Bengal had invited companies to give their application for “handling electronic ordering, purchase, sale and home delivery of alcoholic liquors from licensed retail outlets” to consumers who were of legal drinking age in the state. Amazon has extended its operations in India in the last few years, in accordance with its commitment to invest USD 6.5 billion in the country. India is one of its key growth markets as more and more people turning towards online shopping for purchasing everything– from groceries to electronics. Online delivery of alcohol in West Bengal is a bold move of the company that would help it in increasing access to the USD 27.2 billion markets, according to estimates by IWSR Drinks Market Analysis. BevCo, the state-owned wholesaler of liquor in West Bengal, also invited two Kolkata based companies−. Senrysa Technologies Private Ltd. and Golden Goenka Commerce Pvt Ltd, for signing the agreements. Retailer Spencer’s and HipBar have also joined the fray as the government allowed the home delivery of alcohol in the state. The step was taken by the government t reduce footfall at the stores amid the coronavirus pandemic. Another eight lesser-known companies, which expressed interest in alcohol delivery have been asked by the state authorities to demonstrate their capabilities of executing the online orders through their platforms. Earlier, Zomato and Swiggy have already started the services in May. The food ordering platforms delivered alcohol in West Bengal’s Kolkata and Siliguri after getting required approvals, followed by the signing of agreements with the state government. For now, the online delivery of alcohol is limited to only West Bengal, but the service may start in other states too as it could help in reviving the economy since the revenue from is impressive. However, this could take time because every state has different policies and regulations regarding the sale of alcohol. Apparently, liquor taxes cover about 15 to 30 percent of state revenues which totals to be approximately Rs 2.48 lakh crores. It was estimated that the government was experiencing a loss of about Rs 700 crores a day because of the alcohol ban during the COVID lockdown. Online alcohol delivery would help people to order alcohol from home, instead of creating health hazards for themselves and others.