There are certain areas of work in our system where, in spite of its obscure position in the middle, the most important letter of the alphabet is recognised as ‘L’. Whenever it is suffixed by 1, making it L1, the fortunes of some tend to undergo a change for the better. The preferential treatment and the dominance of L1 over others conform to the fundamentals of contracting by the government — the lowest bidder is the winner — ensuring the least drain on its resources with the best possible returns. Time and again, it has been seen that while L1 may have ensured better control over the purse strings, the quality of goods and services obtained in return may be lacking in certain vitals. But the power of L1 is such that none dare question and raise the issue of quality.
These days, however, there is another L1, also serving the government, but in a different environment. While one L1 relates to the outgo of funds, the other L1 has a direct bearing on the income. Being one of the primary sources of income for the government explains its seemingly exalted position. In contrast, while one L1 relates to the lowest, the other relates to the highest. This hard-sell of the relatively new entrant to the market came to my notice in Gurugram, where a number of shops had put up big display boards outside, bearing only the inscription ‘L1’. A closer look revealed that these were liquor vends, with some having fancy names. While some of these vends had ‘L1’ displayed prominently, the others did not. It was learnt only later that L1 meant a wholesaler’s licence for which the vendor had to pay to the government a hefty fee, the higher the better. And for an additional payment, the shop could remain open even up to midnight.
While the after-effects on the consumers of various hues are more or less similar, the class distinction among the liquor vends remains very distinct. The L1 invariably boasts of a posh location, and sometimes, may even be able to encroach on public land. It usually has a glass frontage with a very brightly lit interior, giving a clear view of the fancy assortment of the merchandise inside. One has even claimed in advertisements to be the largest liquor shop of Asia! The other vends are not so fancy but can be noticed from a distance, particularly in the evenings when a huge disorderly crowd gathers outside. The lowest in the hierarchy is the country liquor shop which can be usually identified by a frontage of thick steel grills.
Be that as it may, there is no doubt that the rate at which the ‘respect’ for Bacchus is growing would continue to further strengthen not only L1 but also the entire series.
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