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Buy a beer from the colawallah

Taking a cue from Andhra Pradesh, the highest revenue-earner from excise duty, the cash-strapped Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government has decided to lift several restrictions on opening bars in and outside the city.

Officials said plans are being drawn up to allow soft drinks-sellers to stock and sell beer. The excise department’s proposal is being considered by the government. Permission has being given to departmental stores.

According to the new rules, anyone can open a bar at any place, except near educational institutions and places of worship. Only a covered place is required. A licence to open and run a bar will be issued on the basis of a merit list.

Earlier, a licence was issued only to a hotel or restaurant and if there was another bar near the proposed place. There were a number of formalities, like approval from the district magistrate and local MLA and clearance from the local councillor.

Now, alcohol can be sold in any shop selling beverages. “And it will not matter whether there is another shop in the area or not. We have also simplified the process of issuing licences for bars,” officials said.

Excise minister Prabodh Sinha said the move was aimed at raising revenue. He added that after the relaxation of rules, the number of bars in the city and other urban areas would increase, and so would the revenue from excise duty. “Andhra Pradesh earns over a thousand crores from excise duty. The state is the most liberal in issuing foreign liquor licences. Though we shall not be able to compete with them, we are trying to increase revenue. But we have to change our outlook,’’ Sinha said.

The minister admitted that the government could have earned a lot of money from excise duty had it been flexible in issuing licences. He said many unemployed youths could take advantage of the new liberal policy and open a bar.

Despite thousands of applications, the Marxist government did not issue a single licence to any bar or off-shop from 1977 to 1998 on the grounds that “consumption of alcohol reflects a decadent culture’’. But on pressure from different corners, especially from the tourism department, bars were allowed only in big hotels. Later, licences were issued to bars in small restaurants, too. Now, the doors have been opened to all.

At present, there are nearly 250 foreign liquor off-shops and 200 bars in the city and the government annually earns about Rs 500 crore from excise duty.

“This year, we have targeted an increase of Rs 600 crore in revenue,’’ said excise secretary T.K. Burman.

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