The Madhya Pradesh government’s move to boost its revenue and curtail the consumption of liquor in public by encouraging shops to open bars adjacent to them, where people can drink within closed spaces, seems to be paying off.
Around 100 IMFL shops have sought licenses for shop bars – called ‘ahatas’ locally – from the Excise Department after the Madhya Pradesh cabinet gave its nod to the proposal.
Nearly 80 per cent of the approximately 2,600 country liquor shops in the state already had ahatas. However, of the 1000-odd IMFL shops in the state, more than 900 did not have any such facility.
The previous BJP-government, headed by Shivraj Singh Chouhan, had argued that these ahatas would create a law-and-order problem and had started discouraging them – no new shop bar licenses were given by the BJP government in 2018.
However, the current Congress government has taken the complete opposite stand, stating that such bars will encourage people to drink within closed spaces rather than in public, where they could cause a nuisance. The new government has already eased rules for bar licenses in resorts in a bid to encourage tourism in forest areas.
The move is likely to also help the Kamal Nath government boost revenue, given that the state’s financial condition is in doldrums – excise is one of the major sources of revenue in the state. The excise department’s target for the current year is more than Rs 10,700 crore.
Though shop bars are not mandatory, some owners opt for them because they bring in more money. The license fee for such bars will be 5 per cent of the shops auctioned for less than Rs 2 crore. For shops auctioned for Rs 2-5 crore, an additional 3 per cent will be the fee, with an additional 2 per cent for shops auctioned for more than Rs 5 crore.
“It’s not that every applicant who applies will get a license because such shop bars have to meet certain conditions, like being a certain distance from educational institutions,” a top excise official told The Indian Express.
Since there are just four months left in the financial year, the shop owners will have to pay for the fees proportionately. Yet, the department hopes to earn at least Rs 80 crore from the new licenses.
The new rules, which were published in a gazette last week, make it mandatory for bars adjacent to IMFL shops to be air-conditioned, have valet parking if adequate parking facility is not available, free drinking water with water purifiers, a minimum of two security guards, furniture, a minimum covered area of 300 sq feet, and hygienic food, among other things.
The air-conditioner and valet parking rules don’t apply to country liquor shops.
Earlier, Chouhan had said that the BJP would let MP become ‘Madira (liquor) Pradesh’ warned that his party would take to the streets, if need be. The former CM also sought to remind that no new shops had been allowed to come up when his party was in power, and that MP was gradually taking steps closer to prohibition.
Chouhan had even suggested that incidents of rape could go up, arguing that most rapes are committed by people who are intoxicated.
Congress leader Narendra Saluja, however, accused Chouhan of misleading the people. Quoting a reply given in the Assembly, Saulja said that when the Congress lost power in the state in 2003, the number of IMFL and country liquor shops in the state were 2211 and 581 respectively, but the numbers rose to 2594 and 1089 in 2016-17.