Calcutta, Oct. 19: The Bengal government has empowered the excise commissioner to make closing hours of bars flexible, following which the limit has been extended till 2am for a fee until January 10.
An order issued by finance secretary H.K. Dwivedi yesterday gave the excise commissioner the flexibility. The excise commissioner can alter the time limit with the prior approval of the state government, the order said.
“The commissioner will, however, not have the power to order the closure of bars before 1am because last week’s extension till that time was done by changing the West Bengal Excise (Foreign Liquor) Rules, 1998,” an excise department official said. Till October 11, the closing time of bars was midnight.
The 2am deadline came into effect tonight and will be valid till January 10, 2013, according to an executive order issued today by excise commissioner Deb Kumar Chakraborty. An amount of Rs 10,000 will have to be paid for every hour a bar remains open after midnight.
Last week, the state government had extended the closing time by an hour — till 1am — tapping the festival season to fill its empty coffers.
Extended bar timings are expected to increase liquor sales, allowing the government to collect more excise tax.
In his 2012-13 budget speech, finance minister Amit Mitra had set an excise collection target of Rs 2,786.47 crore, of which over Rs 1,200 crore was collected till September 30.
According to trends available with the excise department, liquor consumption usually goes up during the second half of the year, coinciding with the festival season.
Finance department sources said the extension till 2am could replenish the excise kitty by “anything between 10 per cent and 15 per cent”.
“We had been mulling the idea of keeping bars open till 2am, but there were doubts over the kind of response the move would generate. The response to the extension till 1am has been quite encouraging, especially in the star deluxe hotels. That is why the closing time was extended by another hour,” a source in Writers’ Buildings said this evening.
The excise commissioner will decide if the 2am deadline will continue beyond January 10 and if it does, for how long.
The state excise department determines the closing time of bars in consultation with police. The time has been revised several times in the past few years.
Some star hotels and partygoers in Calcutta welcomed the relaxation on all days of the week. Till March, bars in star hotels could keep their bars open till 2am on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Since March, all bars were instructed to serve the last drink by 11.30pm and close by midnight. The directive followed the alleged gangrape of a woman on the night of February 5.
“Yes, there is a change in the rules now. During the Puja days (except for the dry day regulations on Ashtami and Dashami), we will keep our bar open till 2am,” a spokesperson for Hotel Hindustan International said.
But representatives of several clubs and restaurants expressed dissatisfaction with the new dry day regulations.
“The dry days will surely affect our business in the festival season,” said the manager of a south Calcutta nightclub.