The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Writers’ rethink on liquor shops

Calcutta, Dec. 11: Hic, hic… but let’s postpone the hurrah. Little Brothers Forward Bloc and the RSP have succeeded in forcing the CPM to see the need for a review of its liberal liquor policy.

The government and the front will now “study more closely” the policy that would have led to 3,000 new off-shops in the state.

Despite excise minister Prabodh Chandra Sinha choosing to keep his chin up and another partner, the CPI, openly saying it saw nothing wrong with the new policy, front chairman Biman Bose today confirmed that both the ruling coalition and the government would review it.

Briefing chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee about the grievances aired by the Bloc and the RSP at yesterday’s front meeting, Bose stressed the importance of a review to smooth ruffled feathers. Both constituents had threatened to launch statewide protests, activating frontal (students’ and youth) organisations to take to the road.

“I have briefed the chief minister about the grievances. Finance minister Asim Dasgupta, who is now out of Calcutta, will submit a report immediately after his return for the front to discuss it,” Bose said today.

Despite the climbdown, Bose insisted that the government had done nothing wrong in liberalising its liquor policy. “Maharashtra earns Rs 14,000 crore every year by selling liquor. Andhra Pradesh realises Rs 12,000 crore as excise revenue and Tamil Nadu earns Rs 10,000 crore every year,” he said. “Our state earns only Rs 600 crore.”

The CPM politburo member hastened to add that he was not “justifying” the government’s decision to issue licences to new off-shops. “I am only saying that Bengal earns little by selling liquor in comparison to other states,” said Bose.

The Bloc and the RSP, however, insisted that it was not proper for a Left government to earn money by selling liquor. “We have to identify some other way of augmenting our revenue, instead of permitting such a huge number of liquor shops,” RSP leader and former public works department minister Kshiti Goswami said today.

“There would have been milk shops and liquor shops cheek-by-jowl in markets and we wanted to leave the choice to people,’’ excise minister Sinha said, explaining why the rollback was unnecessary.

“As consuming alcohol is not banned in the state, we do not have any right to prevent anybody from consuming it,” he added. “There are more than 10,000 liquor shops in Andhra and similar numbers in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Have the states gone to hell or have the youth there become decadent'” he asked.

All-India Youth League, the Bloc’s youth wing, threatened to gherao all excise offices in the state if the government stuck to its decision.

If the government does stick to its decision after the review, 3,000 new liquor shops will come up and there would be, on an average, one shop for every 12,000 people in the city, an official said. Elsewhere in the state, the ratio would be one shop for every 18,000 people.

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