The Government’s ‘vocal for local’ call is fine to make India self-reliant but why take it out on alcohol?
There has been a lot of debate surrounding that golden elixir that we call whisky. Some of it relates to the way the Americans spell the word — with an “e” — others wonder whether whisky should be made with malted barley or with grain or even molasses, the last being the way it is made in India. But one thing is certain: Scotch whisky is produced north of Hadrian’s wall in the country of Scotland. As any whisky connoisseur will tell you, while some others get it right occasionally, the Scots do it right almost all the time. Scotch whisky is, therefore, a go-to drink. Certain brands like Chivas Regal and Johnnie Walker have become popular not just because of the massive marketing campaign but also due to their consistent high quality. Little wonder then that Scotch Whisky has a “geographic indicator” tag.
However, it’s not just about Scotch whisky but more about how the Central Defence Stores (CDS) are gradually withdrawing orders from some larger brands. Is it because Indian brands have to be promoted at these stores where serving and retired military and defence personnel buy everything, from household goods to motorcars? Some suspect this to be the case. However, it is also likely that this is being done to prevent the inevitable leakage of a certain amount of such top-end spirits into a lucrative black market. Prices at CDS canteens attract less excise. They can often be considerably lower than market prices with some States offering an arbitrage opportunity to some individuals. One is not saying that there are many rotten apples but the easy availability of spirits and wines from CDS canteens has been an open secret for some time in certain cities. To be fair, the authorities have cracked down even on the eligibilities of those who can access the CDS. It could also be that an argument was made against subsidising luxury spirits from such stores. Such an argument will be a lot more palatable than the “vocal for local” argument as frankly, most Indian whiskies are bottom shelf, with some notable exceptions of late. If one can afford to buy luxury whiskies, they can afford to pay the full price, including the duties on those products.