Himachal Pradesh Beverages Corporation Ltd (HPBCL), the new PSU set up in March this year to take over the Rs 3,000 crore liquor trade amid hectic lobbying to replace the “open bid” policy with a “single-tender” player on the lines of UP and Punjab, is now struggling to get its hold over the trade. A powerful lobby, allegedly enjoying political patronage including from some quarters in the government, has scuttled the Corporation’s move to open its godowns in the districts.
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So far, only four godowns have been opened — at Baddi (Solan), Sundernagar (Mandi), Nagrota Bhagwan (Kangra) and Bilaspur. The fifth has been now proposed for Kullu, but only two eligible bidders had submitted their tenders. Now, the Corporation has decided to extend the last date for fresh bids to November 15, officials confirmed.
But there are still uncovered large districts like Shimla, Una, Mandi, Hamirpur and Chamba, where state excise officials are facing tough resistance from the middlemen in opening HPBCL godowns. The retailers who paid the license fee have been left high and dry as HPBCL is unable to meet their demands for monthly stocks.
Meanwhile, the government has quietly brought into business a private promoter, Blue Lion Distribution Ltd, which has created an added confusion and diluted the mandate of the HPBCL.
Top government officials admit that as per the new excise policy approved by the state Cabinet in March and an affidavit submitted in the High Court, the corporation was primarily set up to act as a single wholesale licencee.
Being the only wholesale procurement and supplies agency, the corporation has just been unable to handle the volume of the work and maintain supplies to retailers in time.
There is a huge backlog in the supplies to the retailers every month. Most of them have to deposit their payments, get the permits issued and then collect the stock from assigned depots.
Ravinder Ravi, a BJP legislator and member of party’s chargesheet committee on corruption, says, “Now we have exact information as to who is running a parallel liquor trade in the state. Huge corruption is involved in the business and black marketing of liquor. All genuine licence holders (wholesalers), most of them locals, were thrown out of business and replaced with liquor mafia from UP and Punjab, backed by the ruling party’s middlemen.”
For long, the HPBCL had been trying to put in place an online system of procurement and supplies to the retailers and to enable them to make online payments and get stock on first-come-first-served basis. But there is stiff resistance to this even as NIC had already developed a software for this a months back. “Good news is this will be happening soon. I have given the HPBCL a deadline of November 16 to switch over to the online system and computerise its operations for greater transparency,” principal secretary (excise and taxation) Tarun Kapoor said Saturday.
In June 2016, the High Court had upheld the decision of the government to set up HPBCL, a model adopted from Karnataka and Rajasthan where the system has worked successfully.
According to reports, two leading IMFL suppliers, United Spirits Ltd (USL) and Pernod Recard India Ltd, have already conveyed their strong reservations to the government over attempt to bend the policy by allowing a private firm.
The total revenue to the state from sale of liquor was Rs 1,100 crore till last year. The government had expected a rise of Rs 300 crore during this year. But if the HPBCL fails to function, those in ‘black-markets’ will do brisk business, a retired excise department official said.