The lockdown in the country to control the spread of COVID-19 has proved out to be a boon for black marketers of sin commodities like cigarettes and alcohol.
Black marketers are raking in hefty moolah by selling cigarettes and liquor at more than double the original price.
After the lockdown was announced on March 24, cigarette makers such as ITC and Godfrey Phillips suspended production. With cigarettes not being considered essential supply items, distributors have also suspended supply across the country.
The ban on the supply of alcohol and cigarettes has pushed the sellers, who have old stock, to charge exorbitant prices for a pack of cigarette and bottles of whiskey or a beer in the country.
“With supply restrictions, even the supermarkets have exhausted their stock of cigarettes. We have limited stock left with us, and the demand is higher so we are capitalising on the high demand and smokers too are ready to pay higher prices,” said a paan seller at Pedder Road in Mumbai.
For instance, in the lockdown period, a pack of Benson and Hedges cigarette is sold for Rs 500 as compared to the original price of Rs 300, while loose cigarettes that were being sold at Rs 17 are being sold between Rs 30 to Rs 35.
Paan and cigarette shop owners said that their sale was halted since March 22 the day PM Modi called for the ‘Janta Curfew’.
Analysts covering cigarette manufacturers opined that the pricing of imported or smuggled cigarettes is not regulated in India.
With cigarettes becoming dearer and difficult to procure, it has prompted smokers to either reduce smoking or use the opportunity to quit for good.
“I am a chain smoker, but due to high prices, I smoke one cigarette three times,” said a resident of Mumbai.
Another resident of Mumbai said that it is a good time to quit smoking due to non-availability of cigarettes.
“I was initially very frustrated but now I am using the lockdown to reduce smoking,” said a Mumbai-based resident.
The nationwide lockdown is also forcing tipplers in the city to shell out a lot of money to buy liquor in the black market. Liquor shops had downed their shutters since the nationwide lockdown started on March 25.
For instance, a regular whiskey bottle that is usually available for sub-Rs 1,000 is sold in the black market for Rs 2,500. A can of beer of a renowned brand which is sold for Rs 100, is now getting sold for Rs 500-600 for a can.
A customer said, “I approached my vendor for alcohol over the phone, he initially refused but then called me back and quoted a higher price of Rs 7,000, which I used to buy for Rs 3,500 before the lockdown.”
When Moneycontrol reached out to the alcohol body to ask about black marketing, they refused to comment.
Meanwhile, The Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies (CIABC) has written to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray with recommendations for the phased resumption of business — from distillery to wine stores — given the revenue and employment implications for the state.
Moreover, given the higher number of coronavirus cases in Maharashtra, the industry body said that if the government is unable to open liquor shops it should at least allow online delivery of alcohol.
West Bengal and Meghalaya have already started the online delivery of alcohol.
However, wine shopper owners have a different say on the online delivery.
“Online delivery in Maharashtra is not possible, it will create nuisance for the citizens since liquors will be easily available at the door step 24*7 and will be available without official drinking permits even youths would be easily carried away if alcohol deliveries will be on,” said Abhishek Hemnani, a Bandra-based wine shop owner.