On the first day of liquor vends opening in Punjab after almost two months since March 22, Punjab’s tipplers were not eager to hoard liquor as was witnessed in other states.
The state, known for its per capita consumption of liquor, saw only “lukewarm” response to the opening of vends.
“Most of the cities witnessed about 40 per cent sales vis-à-vis total sales recorded on a normal day in Punjab. We were hoping that like in other states, people would make a beeline to the vends and we would find it difficult to manage the crowds. Nothing of this sort happened. It was a lukewarm response,” said Inderpal Singh, a liquor contractor.
He added that this was the first day after March 22 that vends were opened. “Everybody would expect that at least in the week after opening, the sale would grow manifold. But they have actually fallen.”
The contractors assert that this supported their stand against the government. The contractors have been at loggerheads with the government demanding relief for 37 days of curfew during which they were not able to open their vends.
Also, they have been seeking that the quota should also be reduced. They were not opening vends till Thursday when the government stepped in and gave them an ultimatum. On Friday, the shops were opened as the contractors said that the government was warning them of dire consequences if they stuck to their stand.
“Now the government wants us to pay excise from May 7 onwards. We are not only suffering loss of revenue for the nine days of March, 37 days of curfew and this week is also added to it. Whatever may happen to the sale, the government will get its Rs 16 crore every day,” a contractor said.
SILVER LINING FOR CONTRACTORS
The association of contractors had a meeting with Group of Ministers (GOM) constituted by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh to redress their grievances. While Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, who lost his father Gurdass Singh Badal, could not attend the meeting, the other two comprising Education Minister Vijay Inder Singla and Revenue Minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria chaired the meeting. The contractors said they were assured by the ministers that their grievances will be redressed.
“We had a very fruitful meeting. The ministers heard us patiently and it appears they will give us relief. The meeting went on for over three hours. We listed all our grievances and told them that we needed time much more than anything. The only way to compensate us is to give us more time. At least give us 37 days in the next fiscal,” said Varinder Sharma, office-bearer of liquor contractors’ association.
A liquor contractor said that the ministers may agree on reducing the quota. “They told us that they will take up the matter with the Chief Minister.”
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