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Liquor cheer to fill the coffers
- Andhra-style excise policy opens door for more off-shops

Free flow is one way out of a funds crunch. So now, pay a fat sum of Rs 2 to 3 lakh and grab a licence for a foreign liquor off-shop in town.

Cowed down by a cash crunch and buoyed by the prospect of high excise earnings, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government is poised to formulate a new excise policy, under which major restrictions have been lifted and several other conditions relaxed.

Excise minister Prabodh Sinha and excise commissioner Satish Tewari recently visited Andhra Pradesh, the highest earner of excise duty in the country, and submitted a report recommending relaxation of rules in setting up liquor shops. The new policy has been drafted on the basis of the report. Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu rake in close to Rs 3,000 crore from excise duties per annum, while the Bengal government earned Rs 567 crore from excise last year. “Our move is aimed at increasing revenue collection while luring people away from spurious liquor. If there is easy availability of liquor from licensed off-shops, illegal liquor dens will automatically shut down,’’ said Sinha.

According to the new policy, “anybody can open a foreign liquor off-shop or bar anywhere in the city”, with no ceiling on the number of liquor shops in any particular area or market. The only restriction is the court-imposed bar on an off-shop being located within 50 metres of an educational institution or a place of worship.

The other bar to be lifted is the need for a recommendation from the local MLA or MP or municipal chairman to set up a liquor shop. “Off-shops can be opened at any place of the traders’ choice,’’ said excise department officials. The selection of applicants will be through lottery and the licence fee will vary between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 3 lakh. Also, bars in clubs can, under the new policy, double as off-shops selling liquor to its members. Departmental stores, too, will be allowed to sell beer and drinks with low alcohol content.

At present, there are 375 foreign liquor off-shops and 300 bars in the state, of which “over 60 per cent” are located in the city. According to finance department officials, excise is an ideal sector to boost revenue. “We do not want to make Calcutta another Hyderabad or Chennai with an excessive number of off-shops and bars. But we felt that the number of off-shops in the city is too few to meet the demand. We want to allow a reasonable number of shops. Also, we want to make the system of issuing liquor licences hassle-free,” explained excise commissioner Tewari.

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