The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Govt lifts ‘moral ban’ on liquor

Calcutta, Feb. 18: The Left Front government has shed inhibitions to ensure a liquor boom in the state.

In its first 23 years since coming to power in 1977, the government had issued permits to 22 new liquor shops. But in the three years since then, it has cleared the opening of 253 new shops.

“In 1977, the orthodox leaders of the CPM — the largest constituent of the front — thought it bad to allow its government open new liquor shops,” said a senior party leader.

Excise minister Probodh Chandra Sinha admitted the government’s long aversion to alcohol. Only one new liquor shop came up in the state each year on an average from ’77 to 2000, he said.

Sinha said 253 licences were given through lottery to interested parties to open liquor shops in 2000. “About 180 shops have started functioning. The rest could not due to legal complications. A number of aspirants, who had applied for licence but did not get it because their names did not figure in the lottery, had moved court,” the minister said.

“There are some moral obligations on the part of our government in allowing more and more wine shops in the city and Bengal. We don’t want people to consume alcohol. But we can’t force those willing to take alcohol to give up the habit. Moreover, we don’t want people to consume country liquor or other spurious alcohol. Now we want to give unadulterated alcohol to those who can afford and those who are in the habit of taking it. Naturally, the government had to revise its earlier stand on the issue,” said Sinha.

The minister justified the government’s move further. He said most poor and low-income group people consume country liquor because of inadequate foreign liquor shops in the state.

“Another reason that prompted the government not to encourage the opening of new liquor shops was that many poor people drink alcohol and spend most of their incomes on it, leaving their families in deplorable financial condition. We don’t want this and are trying hard to restrict the number of country liquor shops,” said the minister.

He also tried to balance the striking shift in the government’s stand. “Organisationally, we are totally averse to the idea of consuming liquor. Our party initiates strict measures against members who are in the habit of consuming alcohol. We wanted to convey the message to the people of the state. But now we realise not everybody is a member of our party and is not bound to go by our instructions. Naturally, we have decided to lift our moral ban on alcohol.”

However, the government’s own “deplorable” financial state appears to have prompted the decision most.

“Sale of alcohol also brings a huge revenue, which we require at the moment,” said a senior state CPM leader who did not want to be identified.

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