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Regular-article-logo Wednesday, 26 June 2024

Jharkhand gets flak for giving liquor trade back to private players

Opposition claims decision was taken to please the liquor syndicate, which would “fund the BJP” in the upcoming elections

Vijay Deo Jha Ranchi Published 07.12.18, 08:44 PM
Saryu Roy, state food, civil supplies and consumer affairs minister.

Saryu Roy, state food, civil supplies and consumer affairs minister. The Telegraph file picture

The Raghubar Das government’s U-turn in handing liquor sale back to private players 20 months after it took over the business has provoked a volley of reactions ranging from a call for introspection from within the BJP to open jibes by the Opposition claiming the ruling party wanted to cosy up to the liquor syndicate for “election funds”.

Admitting an 11 per cent dip in revenue, the state cabinet on Thursday decided to hand over liquor trade to private retail with only one change, allotments through e-lottery instead of manual ones, a reversal from its earlier claims of controlling illegal trade and taking a step towards prohibition.

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Reacting to this, BJP veteran and state food, civil supplies and consumer affairs Saryu Roy on Friday suggested the government prepare an analytical report to review why and how the government’s decision misfired.

“I will ask the finance secretary and development commissioner to prepare a report. A drastic fall in revenue affected the state’s finances. I want to know the logic behind taking control of liquor sale which the cabinet ultimately scrapped,” he said.

Roy was present at Thursday’s cabinet meeting where the proposal to withdraw from liquor sale, placed by the department of excise and prohibition, was passed without discussion.

He said 20 months ago, when the government decided to control liquor business, he had “favoured total prohibition”. “But we were told this (government control) was a step towards total prohibition.”

Some senior BJP leaders also anonymously said the government should not have taken a U turn. “This is embarrassing. We were saying how the government would impose total prohibition in phases. Now revenue collection has become more important than prohibition,” said a senior party leader.

This U-turn has given the Opposition to train its guns at the government. Many are saying this decision was taken to please the liquor syndicate who would “fund the BJP” in the upcoming elections.

“Now the elections are approaching, the BJP wants cash. That’s why the government withdrew its decision to please liquor syndicate who will fund the BJP,” said JMM central secretary and spokesperson Supriyo Bhattacharya. His leader, JMM executive president Hemant Soren dripped with sarcasm. In a tweet, Hemant said, “Surely @dasraghubar ji found it more impt a work (taking control of state liquor trade) than improving health, education & jobs sector. The #ChiefMinister should now answer on how he plans to bridge the 11% dip in Fiscal Revenue.”

State Congress leader Alok Dubey said the government had no intention to impose total prohibition. “Such an U-turn is natural as this was an arbitrary decision taken without proper homework. Chief minister Raghubar Das is in the habit of copying the Chhattisgarh government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” he said, alluding to how Chhattisgarh’s model had inspired Jharkhand.

“Now the CM should tell the people of Jharkhand how would he enforce total prohibition and end the illegal liquor business,” Dubey said, pointing out hooch tragedies in September 2017 and October 2018 that took at least 20 lives in all.

Insiders of excise and prohibition department said the government had estimated a yearly revenue of Rs 1,400 crore from government-run liquor outlets. “In the fiscal year 2016-17, revenue generation was Rs 957 crore. In 2017-18 (when the government took over), it was Rs 847 crore,” he said. He added the government ran 660 liquor shops compared to 1,432 retail licensed shops earlier. “The number of shops were reduced, there were establishment costs,” he said, explaining the dip in revenue.

Jharkhand State Beverages Corporation MD Bhor Singh Yadav refused to comment on the reasons behind poor revenue collection.

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