Srinagar, March 23: Raise a toast, but only half full.
The Omar Abdullah government has decided against issuing further liquor licences in Jammu and Kashmir, the move apparently aimed at cashing in on the broader societal disapproval to its sale and consumption.
I do not intend to do it (issue liquor licences) in the future, state finance minister Abdul Rahim Rather, whose ministry is responsible for issuing fresh licences, said.
Although the move is being seen as a step in the direction of prohibition, the government is not inclined to bring in legislation towards a dry state.
Rather said prohibition in isolation is not possible. Mere laws cannot bring prohibition, as the experience in other states of the country shows. If we implement prohibition, people will smuggle liquor from Punjab.
Most of the existing liquor outlets are in Jammu. Of the 226 wine shops owned by the private parties in the state, only five are in the Valley and two in Ladakh, with the rest in the Jammu region.
Todays announcement marks the second time the Omar government has adopted a hard line on liquor since taking office in January last year.
When liquor baron Vijay Mallya announced plans to restart hop cultivation — used in making beer — last year, Omar intervened and nipped the liquor barons proposal in the bud. The Mallyas had started the cultivation of hops in Shilvat in 1973, but militants had destroyed a unit run by the family and forced a closure.
At the start of insurgency in 1990, militants had started a vigorous campaign to ban liquor sale.
Several shops were damaged or forced to close down.
Omars father and then chief minister Farooq Abdullah re-opened a few shops when he came back to power in 1996. But they couldnt function normally in the face of militants threats.
It was during the last three years of the Peoples Democratic Party-Congress coalition government that five shops were opened in the Valley despite opposition from several separatist groups and social organisations.
In recent years, though, liquor sale and consumption have grown in the Valley: some 11.5 lakh bottles of Indian-made foreign liquor, desi whisky and beer were consumed in 2008-09 despite the militants continued ban.
But the consumption in Jammu — official figures put it at over 1.5 crore bottles that year — far exceeds that in the Valley.