Under fire from within the Party and the opposition over government entering the retail liquor trade business in the state, Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das has said that the state would move towards prohibition, but gradually. Last week, the cabinet had approved roping in Jharkhand State Beverage Corporation Limited (JSBCL) for retail liquor trade (JSBCL is already involved in wholesale liquor trade). Cabinet colleagues, a couple of party MPs and even government officials had expressed concerns, though not openly, over the state entering liquor trade business.
Das, who interacted with mediapersons late Monday evening in his hometown Jamshedpur, said that the state wanted to control the liquor trade before taking steps to close it down. According to an official communication, the CM said, liquor sale in the state would be controlled by the Corporation. Gradually, by creating awareness through involvement of people we will take the state to complete prohibition.” He added that liquor prohibition was a social issue.
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CM told mediapersons that If people become aware at one place, the liquor shop there would be closed. Similarly, as it would spread to other areas, we would go on closing the shops.
Welcoming the statement, Saryu Rai, a senior minister in the cabinet, said.Whether it is done in a phased manner or in one stroke, the state should move towards prohibition. It is welcome statement. A detailed policy for this (phased manner) should also be worked out.
More than a couple of ministers in the cabinet were reported to have expressed their concern over state entering the liquor retail trade during the cabinet meeting, both on the question of whether it would actually increase revenue and whether it would affect the government image.
BJP MP from Ranchi, Ram Tahal Chaudhary, while addressing a meeting of state BJP& farmers. Cell Monday, openly criticised the policy of the state. Targeting the CM, Chaudhary said that the government should not be killing people by selling liquor itself.
Clearly, when the government is trying to implement several development programmes and inviting investment, what is the point of it getting into selling liquor and destroy the lives of youngsters? People, especially women, who are always at the receiving end, are angry over this and said Chaudhary, when contacted. Reacting to the CM’s comments, the MP said that he had no problem if the state indeed moved towards prohibition, choosing whatever method feasible.
Sudesh Mahato, chief of All-Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU), which is an ally in the government, too had criticised the government and demanded complete prohibition. Efforts to reach him did not yield result.
The Jharkhand State Beverage Corporation Limited (JSBCL) was roped in with a target to increase the revenue to Rs 1,500 crores per annum. The JSBCL already deals in wholesale liquor trade in the state. So far, the state government has not been able to cross the Rs 1,000 crore-mark in revenue from liquor sale.
However, sources in the CM office maintained that roping in JSBCL was also aimed at controlling the liquor mafia. A major case was the arrest of AJSU leader from Koderma, Shyam Yadav, who was pushing liquor illegally into Bihar.
Also, despite claims of complete prohibition, liquor is still illicitly found in many places in Bihar. There was a hooch tragedy. Therefore, it was felt that prohibition in one stroke would not achieve the desired purpose,” said an official. He added that the state government has already announced Rs 1 lakh cash reward for village panchayats, if they became liquor free.
Last year, riding high on his prohibition plank, Bihar CM had addressed several meetings in Jharkhand advocating prohibition and criticising Das for not cooperating on the issue. Das had retorted by saying that it was Kumar, who first made people of Bihar addict by taking liquor shops in every panchayat for nearly 10 years and was now talking about prohibition.