The Congress government’s plan to allow the sale of Indian-made foreign liquor (IMFL) at country liquor shops, in the event of the existing system failing to generate expected revenue, has faced hurdles over the model code of conduct.
The new annual excise policy comes into effect from April 1. Licences issued last year will expire on March 31. Although cleared by the Cabinet before the poll code came into effect, the policy will require a go-ahead from the Election Commission because it involves auction of shops. Each auction needs the poll panel’s clearance.
Calling liquor a curse on society, the Opposition BJP has asked the government to roll back the provision, arguing that it will wreak havoc on youngsters in rural areas. “Please roll it back immediately in the interest of the state’s future by freeing yourself from political compulsions,” said former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan in a letter to Chief Minister Kamal Nath.
The state government approached the chief electoral officer for permission immediately after the model code of conduct booklet was distributed. The CEO forwarded the proposal to the EC, which asked if the policy was different from the previous year. The government is expected to send its reply.
CEO V Kantha Rao said if satisfied by the government’s response, the EC will either ask it to implement the policy or to run such shops till the code is in force. He said government employees have manned such shops in states in the past.
The policy allows existing licensees to renew their licence by paying 20 per cent more, and an auction takes places if they refuse. However, if the expected revenue falls below 70 per cent then all shops in the excise district are again auctioned and country liquor shops are allowed to sell IMFL. There are about 2,700 country liquor shops and 1,000 IMFL shops in the state.
While the Congress claims the provision existed in the last policy, the BJP has said otherwise. Chouhan said, “The then BJP government had decided not to allow a single new shop to come up and wanted to gradually go down the path of prohibition by creating awareness. I believed you will continue our policy. Your decision will take its toll on people’s health, future of youths and law and order situation. In the garb of allowing sale of IMFL from country shops you have opened 2,700 new IMFL shops.”
The CM’s media coordinator Narender Saluja targeted Chouhan, claiming that his criticism was only directed at IMFL. Accusing him of always batting for country liquor, Saluja alleged that Chouhan approved tenders from country liquor manufacturers even for 2019-2020 and used his clout to deny permission to three new manufacturers to participate in the tendering process to ensure the monopoly of those he favoured.