Punjab government Wednesday issued orders to open the liquor vends from Thursday with the provision of home delivery, even as liquor contractors in several districts decided not to start operations “until the Excise Policy 2020-21 is reviewed”.
As per an the order issued by Excise and Taxation Department, the liquor stores would remain open from 9 am to 1 pm. The timing for home delivery will be decided by the respective assistant excise and taxation commissioners in consultation with deputy commissioners.
Though the Punjab Excise Act 1914 and the Excise Rules has no provision of home delivery of liquor, a decision in this regard has been taken to ensure social distancing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the order states.
To check sale of illegal or smuggled liquor, a maximum of two litres of liquor will be allowed through home delivery only against the original bill that the delivery boy will have to carry. The delivery boys will be issued identity cards by the department and will also carry curfew pass. Home delivery of Punjab Medium Liquor (PML) will not be allowed.
The vends have been asked to ensure social distancing norms and sanitisation. Not more than five people will be allowed to stand outside a liquor shop, the orders said.
Only those liquor contractors who have paid 50 per cent of the license fee to the state government have been allowed to open their shops, as per the order. Contractors who had deposited all their taxes till March 23 have also been allowed to resume operations.
Contractors not too keen
Despite having paid Rs. 20 to 25 lakh as license fee in advance for renewing the existing contracts to open vends in the fiscal 2020-21, a number of contractors vends have refused to start operations from Thursday.
Inderpal Singh, a liquor contractor, told the Indian Express that contractors from Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Nawanshahr and Kapurthala have decided not to open their shops, despite the fact that vends in Ludhiana alone contribute Rs 750 crore to the state’s kitty every year. He said meeting was scheduled Wednesday evening to review the situation.
The contractors in a letter to the government have said that that though they had deposited advance fees, but not a single contract has come into operation due to the nationwide lockdown and curfew in place in Punjab owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. “World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared coronavirus as a pandemic and Union of India has also acknowledged it as a natural disaster and have invoked the provisions of Disaster Management Act. The circumstances are very clear. The contractors have waited for opening of vends. Well established law of force majure has come into play and the agreements are virtually in nullity,” the contractors have said.
They have demanded that the proportionate quota of the loss of days due to curfew during last financial year be reduced and proportionate license fee be waived.
They have also sought a modification in the license policy and the condition of quota be withdrawn. Excise fee should be deposited by the licensee as per the actual sales. “We are unable to start the vends until the Excise Policy 2020-21 reviewed,” they said.
Opposing the home delivery, the Association of Wine Dealers demanded that it should not be allowed during the lockdown period. They cited the recent case of pizza delivery boy in Noida who spread Covid-19 to 80 families.
They have demanded that the ahata fee should be waived of during the Covid-19 lockdown, as social distancing is mandatory and nobody will be operating these ahatas. So paying this fee during the lockdown period is very difficult.
Also, they stated that the marriage palaces, restaurants and malls will remain closed. Bulk sales are made during marriage functions and to the restaurants. They said they will lose money on that account. They have demanded that no vend should be opened till the lockdown is completely lifted and the timing should be 9 am to 1 pm and from 4 pm to 7 pm.
Punjab was the first state to seek permission from the Centre for opening of liquor vends to shore up revenue collection. The Centre had rejected the proposal initially but later allowed the states to sell liquor. Punjab, however, took long to allow the opening of vends.
Punjab has been ruing loss of revenue collection due to a stringent curfew. The sale of liquor alone ges the state exchequer Rs 6,000 crore. Shutting down of vends has already cost the state over Rs 500 crore.
The government in its excise policy for liquor vends had renewed existing contracts in majority of its cases by seeking 12 per cent increase in license fee over last fiscal. The remaining liquor vends were also put to allotment by reducing quota and revenue. Contracts of all liquor vends were settled in the month of March itself.
Shops to open in Punjab from 7 am to 3 pm
Giving more relaxation in the curfew, the Punjab government on Wednesday allowed shops to open from 7 am to 3 pm in the state.
Passing the orders, the government has stated that the order would be effective from Thursday. The liquor vends, allowed to open from Thursday, will also be allowed to open from 7 am to 3 pm.
Earlier, the government had allowed the shops to open only between 9 am and 3 pm.
The decision in the districts will, however, be taken by the district magistrates.
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