The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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CPM tries to bottle liquor licence genie

Calcutta, Dec. 18: Fears that new liquor off-shops across the state will give the Opposition an opportunity to browbeat the government and stir up support have led the CPM to backtrack on its excise policy.

State CPM secretary Anil Biswas said this afternoon neither the party nor the Left Front has discussed the issue of new liquor licences. “Even chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is unaware of the government’s decision on opening 3,000 liquor off-shops in the state,” Biswas said when asked to clarify the party’s stand.

“Who told you that the government is going to issue new liquor licences' Did the chief minister say anything' Did he inform you about the government’s plan to issue fresh liquor licences'” he asked.

Though Biswas denied any talks on the liquor policy within the front, its chairman Biman Bose told reporters a couple of days ago that he had informed the chief minister about some front partners’ opposition to the opening of a large number of off-shops.

Former chief minister and CPM politburo member Jyoti Basu had also raised objections regarding the new liquor licences after the Forward Bloc and the RSP resented the government’s move during a meeting of the front committee.

Biswas admitted today that the Bloc had “reservations” about the issuance of new liquor licences and the party had written to the chief minister about it.

The front had been exploring possibilities of earning additional revenue to help the government tide over its financial crisis. “While identifying the sources from where we could earn more revenue, we considered the excise department as a major area. But so far, we have not discussed anything on issuing new liquor licences,” said Biswas.

Asked why senior excise officials had been saying the government would soon issue new liquor licences, the CPM leader said: “They (officials) probably carried out some survey on the possibility of increasing revenue earnings and were expressing their views on the basis of it. But we are under no compulsion to accept their views.”

Trinamul Congress MLA Sougata Roy said the government’s plan to issue fresh liquor licences will “adversely affect the society”. He met finance minister Asim Dasgupta at Writers’ Buildings today, expressed displeasure about the policy and said he would write to the chief minister urging him not to issue liquor licences indiscriminately.

“The number of liquor shops has gone up in the past few years but the collection of revenue has not been proportionate. This indicates that increasing the number of shops does not necessarily mean increase in revenue,” Roy said.

Leader of Opposition in the Assembly and Trinamul spokesman Pankaj Banerjee said this afternoon that the party would launch a statewide agitation from next month if the government goes ahead with its decision. “We shall compel the government to roll back its decision on rampant opening of liquor off-shops,” he said.

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