Updated: May 15, 2020 2:03:34 pm
Liquor vends in Punjab will open from after Punjab government’s ultimatum to contractors to open shops or face action. To placate the contractors, the government on Thursday relaxed the curfew and allowed the opening of shops between 7 am to 6 pm. Earlier, these shops were opened to be opened only till 3 pm.
As the Epidemic Act is in place in the state, the government can force any shopkeeper to open in state’s interest. While no formal order has been issued to this effect, officials of Excise and Taxation Department confirmed that the contractors were asked to open vends.
“We were threatened of dire consequences if we refuse to open. Even the police commissioners were in meetings with contractors in various districts to build pressure. We were told we could be booked if we do not budge from our stand,” said a liquor contractor on condition anonymity.
He added that they have no option but to open from Friday. “We will see what comes up,” said.
An official of the Punjab government said they did not want to adopt a dictatorial attitude but there was no point giving in to blackmail.
The state was losing revenue of Rs 16.6 crore every day.
The vendors have been demanding to be compensated for 37 days of curfew period and also reduction in quota of liquor to be sold by them as shops would not open for the entire day and people were not liquor shopping due to Covid crisis that had affected economy.
The state had earlier thought of giving relief to contractors by amending the policy. But this had left the Cabinet ministers fuming as a relaxation like that would have caused a loss of Rs 400 crore to state exchequer.
The issue had led to a verbal spat between ministers and Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh during a Cabinet meeting on Saturday.
Over the next few days, while the government refused to give any relief to liquor contractors, vend operators refused to resume business. Even on Thursday, liquor shops stayed shut in most of the districts.
This despite the fact that Punjab was the first state to demand opening of liquor vends to mop up resources. But even after Centre’s approval, it was not able to start sales as the contractors were not ready and were demanding compensation.
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