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Tuesday , November 13 , 2012
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State lifts festive spirits

- Happy homes

Ranchi, Nov. 12: The Arjun Munda government is raising a toast to Diwali by removing its dry-day tag for the first time in Jharkhand’s 12-year-old existence, anticipating the festive cocktail of high-spend spirits to fatten revenues but not the deadly hangover of drunken revelry, gambling and dangerous driving.

As a warning prequel, two students died and two others sustained injuries in the early hours today on NH-33 as their car — clanking with empty liquor bottles — collided with a bus in Namkum.

According to state excise minister Gopal Krishna Patar, alias Raja Peter, who signed the official notification last week, the state wanted to “reduce the number of dry days from 11 to eight”. But, he did not elaborate on the kind of revenues they expected from Diwali.

It is no secret that the state government aims to earn over Rs 700 crore by way of excise duty on liquor during 2012-13, but net receipts till September-end were only around Rs 211 crore, despite shoring up duty rates in August. Last fiscal, too, the total revenue was around Rs 408 crore.

From now, Jharkhand residents can buy liquor on Diwali, Mahavir Jayanti and Buddha Purnima, earlier dry days. Some days — Gandhi Jayanti, Independence Day, Republic Day — are dry throughout India, with rare exceptions. Then, states at their level ban liquor sale on certain days — Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra, Holi in Delhi and Bengal, Krishna Janmashtami in Rajasthan, to cite a few examples.

States usually but not always force abstention on days with religious significance to nip drunken celebrations and social unrest in the bud. Even in Jharkhand, Vijaya Dashami — considered sensitive due to immersion rallies — continues to be a dry day.

But from tomorrow, Diwali, despite combustible firecrackers and tempers due to group gambling, won’t be.

There is one small fly in your chosen poison — due to a “technical snag” at a Doranda printing press where gazettes are printed, the Diwali drink comes without the state seal. This, however, isn’t likely to deter liquor shops from doing brisk business.

“We welcome the decision,” said Arun Chawla, owner, Jharkhand Wine Shop, on Ranchi Main Road, and shadow minister appointed by Opposition Congress for state excise department to monitor the activities of his official counterpart Raja Peter.

Chawla said he had written a letter on October 3 to state excise department requesting the dry-day tag on Diwali be lifted. “I wrote to the excise department secretary. The request has been accepted and we received intimation to that effect. Wine shops will stay open tomorrow (Diwali),” he said.

He claimed the biggest reason behind their demand was the “army canteen racket”.

“The army canteen sells liquor openly on dry days. No one questions them. Why is a dry day not applicable to them? Our move is just to curb illegal business,” Chawla alleged.

Another shopkeeper chipped in with a creative justification. “Diwali is considered auspicious for business so we keep shops open for the evening puja. Earlier, if someone came and demanded liquor, we couldn’t sell and had to get into arguments. Now we can,” he said.

On possible traffic disturbances or accidents due to drunken revellers, Ranchi traffic DSP R.N. Singh said they were fully prepared. “We will monitor every chowk. Those found guilty will be forwarded to jail,” he said.

However, police sources said that neither extra personnel nor breathalysers would be seen tomorrow. “Breathalysers are defunct,” said a source not wishing to be named.

Jharkhand’s powers-that-be seem to have forgotten enjoyment comes with responsibility. Jharkhand’s citizens looking forward to Diwali drinks can’t afford to forget it.