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Full-year freedom for club, hotel bars

The Bengal government has given bars in three-star hotels and above and clubs permission to serve liquor all 365 days a year and pruned the list of dry days to four-and-a-half days from 12.

By Devadeep Purohit in Calcutta
  • Published 23.08.16
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Calcutta, Aug. 22: The Bengal government has given bars in three-star hotels and above and clubs permission to serve liquor all 365 days a year and pruned the list of dry days to four-and-a-half days from 12.

The decision ahead of the festive season has been described as "pragmatic" by some industrialists against the backdrop of a scramble to stock up on the eve of all big holidays and in the middle of a debate about prohibition or restrictions in some states, including neighbouring Bihar.

The excise directorate of the Bengal government, which comes under the finance department, issued a notification on August 16, which means the new tipple rules have already come into effect.

"All categories of retail excise licensed outlets/premises for the sale of country spirit.... foreign liquor or other kind of liquor or intoxicant, except bars attached to hotels graded 3-star or above and clubs, shall be kept closed and during the hours as detailed in the table below," reads the order that lists four-and-a-half days as dry days. (See chart)

The way the order has been drafted suggests the dry days will not apply to three-star hotels and above and clubs.

The revised list of dry days is almost similar to those in states like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

"Everyone knows that liquor would be available on dry days if one is willing to pay extra. Besides, people stock up for dry days in advance. Then, what's the need for dry days?" asked an industrialist.

According to him, the decision suggests that the Trinamul government in its second innings is willing to stray from the beaten path and experiment with ideas. The revision is expected to push up the government's revenues and give a push to the state's efforts at promoting tourism.

The decision is also expected to help push up sales in restaurants with liquor licences.

Liquor shops have been a politically sensitive issue in the state. Protests over granting of licences to run liquor outlets have been common in Bengal.

A city-based economist termed such protests "prejudiced", which have often affected excise revenues and the state's attractiveness as a tourist destination.

"Look at states like Maharashtra, where more than 20 per cent of the state's revenues come from excise collection.... Same is the case for most major Indian states. But in case of Bengal, the collection from excise is still languishing below 10 per cent," he said.

In his budget arithmetic for the current financial year, finance minister Amit Mitra has projected an excise earning of Rs 4,698 crore - around 9 per cent of the total tax revenue projection of a little over Rs 50,000 crore.

Over the past few years, the actual excise collection has lagged behind projections, which means the government could not fulfil its targets.

"Fewer dry days would not have much revenue impact.... At most, the state's earning would go up by around Rs 100 crore. But what's important in the announcement is a change in attitude and that's encouraging," said a liquor industry veteran.

According to him, several gram panchayat and police station areas do not have liquor shops, which result in the consumption of illicit liquor.

"Besides, the state doesn't have enough distilleries and 80 per cent of the spirit requirement is sourced from Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra.... If we have more distilleries, that would result in more revenues and employment," he said.