(Eds: Recasts, adds details, minister's quotes) Hyderabad, May 6 (PTI) Exuberant tipplers thronged liquor shops while owners performed special prayers at several places as sale of alcoholic beverages resumed in Telangana on Wednesday after over a month long hiatus due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Customers formed serpentine queues even before the shutters went up as the government allowed sale of liquor at more than 2,000 shops across the state with guidelines, including maintaining social distance and wearing of face masks while also increasing the prices by 16 per cent.
Shops in coronavirus containment zones will, however, remain closed.
Telangana is the latest to join the list of states, including neighbouring Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, which have allowed sale of liquor that remained out of bounds for the tipplers during the first two phases of lockdown.
'I was waiting for this day... I would not mind the price hike. This time I will get sufficient stocks,' a buyer said at one of the shops here.
Some people broke into dance and shouted slogans hailing Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, who on Tuesday night announced the decision to allow liquor sales, keenly awaited by the tipplers after the shops were shut from March 22.
As the shops opened, owners performed special prayers with flowers, coconuts, incense sticks and offered ''Aarti'' (lighting traditional lamp and camphor) in front of the stores at several places, before commencing business.
At several place people were seen waiting from as early as 6 AM in front of the outlets with bags hoping to buy their stock.
Women and elderly people were also among the customers who were seen standing in queues near the liquor shops in the city and other parts of the state.
State Excise minister Srinivas Goud said he visited several outlets here and all of them were following the government guidelines such as wearing masks and maintaining physical distances, among others.
Almost 99 per cent of both buyers and sellers wore masks and people stood in queues maintaining physical distance. The outlets were selling whatever quantities they were holding at the beginningof thelockdown, Goud told reporters.
He said there were 17 liquor depots owned by Telangana Beverages Corporation and no retail outlet has yet placed order for fresh stocks.
Defending the reopening of wine shops, the Minister said Telangana shares over 2500 km long border with other states and since all of them have resumed liquor sales the Rao government also took the decision to allow sales to control the illegal and illicit liquor.
KCR, as Rao is popularly known, had on Tuesday announced that barring 15 liquor outlets located in various containment zones in the state, the remaining more than 2,200 would be open for business from 10 am to 6 pm beginning Wednesday.
However, bars, pubs and other outlets that serve booze will remain shut.
Police personnel were deployed at most of the outlets to avoid untoward incidents and ensure law and order.
Most of the liquor vends had drawn chalk circles outside the shops to make sure the customers observe social distancing rules while buying liquor.
At some stores customers even placed their footwear, bags and other articles inside the circles as a sort of 'proxy' for them while they stayed a little distance away waiting for their turn.
The state government has warned that licenses of shops would be cancelled if the physical distancing norms were violated by sellers and buyers.
Hyderabad Commissioner of Police Anjani Kumar told reporters that social distancing was being followed at the liquor shops in the city.
There are as many as 178 liquor shops in the city, he said adding 'no complaints have been received so far. We have taken steps to maintain the physical distance at each wine shop. Public cooperation is very important.' PTI GDK VVK VS VS