State-owned Jharkhand State Beverages Corporation Limited (JSBCL) will take over the liquor business, including wholesale and retail, completely from August 1. The decision to this effect had been taken four months ago. While the target for the first year of JSBCL taking over has been pegged at Rs 1,500 crores, Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das has indicated that the government would move towards complete prohibition in the state, albeit in a phased manner.
Excise department officials said that, while the JSBCL would run shops, focus will also be firmly on ensuring sale of spurious and illegal liquor is not allowed. Also, they announced an incentive scheme for those gram panchayats, which declare themselves “liquor free”.
According to the excise department, a total of 208 liquor shops have been opened in the state that will begin functioning from August 1. The licences held by the private vendors will expire this evening.
“We have opened 208 liquor outlets. They will open from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. in urban areas and 12 noon to 8 p.m. in rural areas. The JSBCL will take up the job of transportation, sale and cash collection from the godown to the retail outlets,” Excise Secretary Avinash Kumar told mediapersons on Monday. It may be recalled that the JSBCL has already been handling wholesale liquor sale in the state.
Kumar added that the target for this year (August 1, 2016-July 31, 2018) has been fixed at Rs 1,500 crore.
Kumar told The Indian Express that the JSBCL would be providing two persons on each outlet and the hiring has been done through two companies. Asked whether the revenue target was feasible with only 200-odd outlets, Kumar said: “Revenues depend on sale and not on number outlets.” In the past, the sales target from liquor has barely crossed Rs 1,000 crore in the past, even though the state had nearly 1,400 outlets.
Kumar also said that strict watch would be kept on illegal and spurious liquor sale. Already, the department had seized huge amounts of such liquor in raids carried out in Namkum (Ranchi), Tundi (Dhanbad), Ghatshila (East Singhbhum) and Koderma districts. The CID has been asked to investigate the seizures and arrest people involved in it.
Meanwhile, Das on Monday issued strict warning to officials regarding recovery, seizure or reports of spurious or illegal liquor being sold in any area. “Strict action would be taken against the officers-in-charge of the area from where such complaint or information is received,” he said in a statement.
At the executive committee meeting of the state BJP in Giridih on Sunday, Das indicated that the state government would move towards total prohibition. In a tweet, Das said: “Sharab-bandi par hamari sarkar bhi poori tarah sahmat hai, lekin ye prakriya dheere-dheere laagu kee jayegi (My Government is completely in favour of prohibition; but it would be implemented gradually)”. Officials said that the government was serious about prohibition, although no specific time frame was decided.
Earlier, before the end of financial year in March, the government had decided to hand over retail liquor sale to JSBCL. In order to give it time to prepare, the existing licence of the private vendors were extended for four months. The decision was met with opposition from within some sections of the Party, but the government went ahead with it.
In the interim, the Supreme Court ruling directing removal of liquor shops from the national highways also helped in reducing the number of active outlets, as most of the private players were not interested in shifting to new venues.
Official sources maintained that the government was not able to extract revenue from the private players, some of whom were also allegedly involved in spurious liquor sale or black-marketing. Also, the government did not want to put a complete stop as that would create more problems than solve, due to operational issues.
Incidentally, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Das had got involved in a bitter war of words when Kumar accused his Jharkhand counterpart of not cooperating to ensure complete prohibition in Bihar. However, with Kumar coming allying with the BJP last week to form government, Das has been sending congratulatory messages to Kumar.