Liquor licences are flowing freely, but be prepared to fork out a fortune for them.
Excise officials said on Wednesday that a decision had been taken to introduce a new licence fee for liquor off-shops in Calcutta and Howrah that would cost applicants Rs 2.5 lakh, compared to the earlier rate of Rs 10,000 for all categories of shops, everywhere.
Those applying for a bar licence in the city will have to cough up Rs 2 lakh.
The giant leap marks a first in liquor licensing, but is still expected not to slow down the rush for 3,000 new off-shops.
“After a gap of about two years, we started issuing licences for new liquor shops from 2001. We revised the licence fee for the first time in two decades in 2001 and fixed the rate at Rs 10,000,” said excise commissioner Satish Tewari.
“But as the government has now made its excise policy more liberal and decided to issue more licences, we felt the need to increase the fees to raise our revenues,” he added.
Excise department officials have targeted an additional revenue of Rs 50 crore by introducing the new fee structure, applicable for new licences only.
At present, there are around 2,000 off-shops in the city and the districts. According to the new excise policy, one licence will be issued for every 12,000 people in the city and 18,000 people in other urban areas.
Besides, many restrictions have been relaxed. For instance, a recommendation from the local MLA will no longer be required.
Officials said a notification for issuing new licences for both off-shops and bars would be circulated soon. “We are now identifying the locations and finalising the number of shops in each area. We will issue the notification as soon this exercise is completed,” they said.
The government’s “liberal” liquor licence policy has run into an Opposition wall and figures prominently among Trinamul Congress’ protest points for the February 3 bandh call.
Even some Left Front constituents are opposed to the government move.
The government, however, has defended its decision by citing licence fees in other states that, officials said, was “much higher” even than the revised amount fixed in Bengal.
“In Karnataka, Maharastra and Andhra Pradesh, the fee for a new liquor licence is between Rs 8 lakh and Rs 15 lakh. So, even after this hike, the licence fee in Bengal remains among the lowest. When taxes in every field are rising, why should the excise department lag behind'” demanded Tewari.
Excise minister Prabodh Sinha shrugged off the political protests surrounding the liquor policy. “The Opposition may not like all our policies and decisions. It is also not possible for the government to please everyone. We have to work towards the benefit of the entire state and the majority of the people. We have framed the new policy after considering every aspect…. Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee has called a bandh and we will deal with it politically,’’ Sinha said on Wednesday.