MAJORITY of the people in Haryana, especially the women, have been against liquor consumption since decades. One of the prime reasons of it is the strong base of Arya Samaj in the state. There are still communities like Kamboj here which prefer to call them ‘Arya’ instead of calling with their caste identity. Respecting these sentiments of the people, the late Chaudhary Bansi Lal, known as architect of modern Haryana, fought an assembly election exclusively on the issue of ‘total prohibition’ and successfully formed a government with thumping majority. Soon after assuming the office of CM on May 11, 1996 he declared complete prohibition in the state.
But now the Congress Government of Haryana led by Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda evolved a ‘unique’ method to promote liquor consumption and also to reduce the public opposition. The government has declared to involve the Village Panchayats and municipalities in liquor business. Notwithstanding the disastrous consequences of liquor consumption on poor people in villages and small towns, the government offered as incentive Rs 2, 3 and 5 per bottle to Panchayats and municipalities on the sale of Bear, India made foreign liquor (IMFL) and country liquor.
According to a press statement issued by State’s Directorate of Public Relations from Chandigarh on February 21, this per bottle incentive will be “devolved to municipal committees and Panchayati Raj Institutions to augment their resources”. This provision has been made in the new Liquor Policy approved by the Cabinet for the year 2011-12 and announced on February 21. Chief Minister Shri Hooda, in the presence of Minister of Excise Smt Kiran Chaudhary, also reportedly made this announcement at a press conference held in Chandigarh on February 21. The three-tier Panchayati Raj Institution in the state includes Gram Sabhas, Panchayat Samitis and District Panchayats.
This is a fact that women have constantly been opposing the sale and consumption of liquor in Haryana for a long time. That is why no state government could dare go against their wishes. But now the Hooda Government evolved this new method to defuse their opposition and also to involve them in this disastrous trade. Since the Village Panchayats and municipalities will get more funds through this scheme, the villagers including the village Sarpanch will not now be able to oppose the sale of liquor in their respective villages. Rather there could be a blind race among Village Panchayats and the municipalities to sale more bottles of liquor. It is not difficult to imagine the consequences of such a blind race.
As far as augmentation of resources to Panchayats is concerned, if the government is serious to financially help them why does it not give them a share from the other taxes like VAT, road tax, etc. collected by it from people? This could be shared on the pattern followed by the State and the Centre.
Not only this, the state government under the new Excise Policy has exclusively “earmarked Rs 10 crore for encouraging farmers to cultivate barely”. Also, in order to promote sports, the state government will transfer 50 paisa per bottle to the Sports Department.
The country liquor, IMFL and beer prices will rise in the state from April as excise duty on them has marginally been hiked. From April 1, country liquor per litre would cost Rs 11 a litre (Rs 1 hike per litre), beer would be priced at Rs 20 from the earlier Rs 18 a bottle, India made foreign liquor at Rs 37 from Rs 35 a litre, while scotch will be more expensive by Rs 22 and Rs 12 per litre depending upon the prices. It will now cost Rs 47 and 57 instead of earlier Rs 35. After the implementation of the new policy, the state government expects to mop up Rs 2500 crore revenue in next year as compared to the expected collection of Rs 2250 crore in current financial year.
The Hooda government did not stop here. In order to promote the western culture and also to “promote consumption of low alcohol drinks” the government “will issue licences for pubs in big cities like Gurgaon, Faridabad, Panchkula, etc. Further, all the licensed Bars can now purchase draught beer in kegs from wholesale depot (L-1B1) itself”.
Presently, the quota for country liquor in Haryana is 900 lakh proof litre. It is 500 lakh proof litre in the case of IMFL. The government has decided not to raise this quota for the next year. It will also not increase the number of venders. Presently, there are a total of 3500 liquor venders in the state. It includes 2265 venders for country liquor and 1235 for IMFL. According to an official, the mandatory quota of country liquor, distributed equally among the distilleries of the state, has been reduced from 50 per cent to 45 per cent. Restriction on the number of venders and also the quota of the liquor basically contradicts with the government intention to raise liquor sale, as it may lead to black marketing of liquor.
Reacting sharply on involving the Panchayats and municipalities in liquor trade, BJP MLA from Ambala Cant Shri Anil Vij termed the governments step as “disastrous”. “It would spoil the entire village life. Majority of the people in Haryana have traditionally been unanimous on making the state liquor-free. They are fundamentally against addiction. The role of women and the responsible people of the society in this regard has been highly admirable. This step of the government is completely against the public sentiments,” he said talking to Organiser over telephone.
Noted social activist and Swadeshi thinker Dr Bajrang Lal Gupt termed it an “irresponsible step to provoke people for liquor consumption”. “It is totally wrong to give such a low level incentive to Panchayats or the municipalities. It appears to be the part of a larger conspiracy aimed at spoiling morality from the social life. The growth in liquor consumption automatically increases the burden on health infrastructure. It also increases individual health budget. It is a well-known fact that youth involved in liquor consumption indulge more in criminal activities. It is beyond any doubt that the consumption of liquor has deep ramifications on the social and individual life,” he said while talking to Organiser.
Talking to Organiser from Jagadhari leading social activist Shri Darshan Lal Jain termed this step of the state government as “fundamentally wrong”. He said: “Liquor must not be made a medium of earning revenue. It is fundamentally wrong to first earn revenue by encouraging people to consume more liquor and then spending huge money on health budget. It is ridiculous. It is also against the traditional culture of Haryana which never supported addiction. Undoubtedly, the teachings of Arya Samaj strengthened such values in the state.”
Haryana Government is not alone which is trying to earn more revenue by increasing the consumption of liquor. During the last few years the Congress government of Delhi led by Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, crossed all limits on this front and systematically increased the liquor consumption manifold. It first increased the number of licenced outlets and then extended their timing till 10 pm. After that, it allowed serving liquor in restaurants and issued licences to Bars. Now liquor is available in Delhi just on a telephone call, through SMS, fax or even on e-mail. Not only this, one can now buy a liquor bottle even from the nearby general store. Recently, it allowed liquor shops in Malls too under the banner High Time. Just recently, in the name of foreign guests coming for Commonwealth Games, it allowed serving liquor in hotels round the clock. Sometime back it directly hit the poor people of Delhi living in slum areas and unauthorised colonies, when it reduced the condition of bigger plot size to 50 per cent for opening a liquor shop there. Now liquor shops are being opened in such colonies even in very smaller shops.
“Mahatma Gandhi had said that the first law after achieving Independence would be enacted to impose complete ban on cow slaughter and to ensure complete prohibition. But now his so-called followers are acting against his wishes. Delhi has been converted into a big liquor market by Sheila Dikshit government. They are also openly violating Article 47 of the Constitution, which directs all the state governments to take all efforts to curb the consumption of liquor. Contrary to it the Congress governments are now infusing all their might to increase the liquor consumption,” says Prof. Jagdish Mukhi, former Excise Minister of Delhi.