Calcutta, Sept. 7: The Bengal government has extended the closing time for bars without the usual stipulation that it applies only to the festive season, suggesting it may be looking at an indefinite relaxation to increase revenues.
Bars in five-star hotels that don’t play music can now serve liquor round the clock. This means the coffee shops in such hotels can serve liquor without a break if they have a bar licence and don’t play music. Officials of some hotels are planning to seek a clarification whether “music” includes playing recorded songs or refers only to live performances.
All other bars can stay open till 2am by paying Rs 30,000 per night, according to Thursday’s notification. The previous closing time was 11.30pm with a few exceptions.
Bar timings are extended every year from the Puja season through the New Year festivities, enhancing revenues between October and January. But the latest relaxation is silent on when it expires, merely saying the excise commissioner has the power to alter the timings.
An indefinite relaxation would signal a shift by Trinamul, known for its protests against liquor shops and for defeating then finance minister Asim Dasgupta’s bid to forge a political consensus on granting fresh liquor licences.
“The government seems to be trying to shore up revenues, and the excise route is one of the easiest to tap,” a finance department official said this evening.
The state budget has set an excise mop-up target of Rs 3,202.02 crore — about 25 per cent higher than the Rs 2,561.62 crore collected in 2012-13 (revised estimate). Excise department sources said some 35 per cent of the target had been met till August.
“We hope to meet another 50 per cent of the target over the next quarter, so this relaxation was necessary,” a source said. “The extra drinking hours should raise third-quarter collections by 10 per cent.”
State governments are known to drown their revenue sorrows in more liquor licences and longer tipple hours, but Bengal has been squeamish about treading that path. The hotel industry cheered Thursday’s relaxation.
“This progressive decisionů will boost tourism and further enhance our international customer experiences who travel to Calcutta from different time zones,” said Hem Dhillon, associate director (events & public relations), The Park Kolkata.
The 11.30pm curfew had been in place — with a seasonal relaxation — since March 2012 after a woman stepping out of a hotel was allegedly gang-raped in February. Star hotels and nightclubs could serve drinks till 1am for a Rs 10,000 fee per night, though.
To stay open beyond midnight, bars must now pay Rs 10,000 for the first hour and Rs 20,000 for the second, instead of the uniform Rs 10,000-an-hour rate introduced last festive season. Some industry representatives described the doubled rate for the second hour as “steep”.