Aiming to boost revenue by reducing the price of alcohol and making the booze lovers kings, the new excise policy of the AAP government in Punjab which became operational from July 1, has come under the judicial scanner with those in the trade accusing the government of monopolising the liquor industry in favour of a "handful of entities".
However, the government claims the policy is aimed at keeping a stringent check on the smuggling of liquor from neighbouring states and is expecting revenue generation of Rs 9,647.85 crore, a spike of about Rs 2,600 crore from the previous fiscal year.
The new policy, approved by the cabinet last month, is applicable for nine months till March 31, 2023.
The petition filed by Akash Enterprises and other wholesale and retail vendors challenged the policy in the Punjab and Haryana High Court on the plea that it is an attempt to monopolise the liquor trade. It is pending before the court.
The petitioners pleaded that the government had issued a corrigendum whereby the maximum number of retail groups that can be allotted to an entity has been increased to five from three, which furthers the intent of monopolising the liquor industry into the hands of a few 'resourceful' bidders.
Contrary to the allegations, a spokesperson for the Chief Minister's Office told IANS that the new excise policy aims to break the mafia nexus in the liquor trade.
Joining issue, rebel AAP leader and now Congress legislator Sukhpal Singh Khaira said since Arvind Kejriwal has replicated the Delhi excise policy in Punjab by putting the liquor trade into the hands of the mafia and has robbed small contractors of their livelihood, there should be a similar CBI probe ordered against this policy in Punjab to bring out the truth.
"It is an irony that while Kejriwal is crying wolf in Delhi and issuing clean chits to his ministers accused of corruption with irrefutable evidence, his government in Punjab is orchestrating a malicious and vengeful vendetta campaign in the state against political opponents on baseless allegations of corruption," he said.
For consumers it has brought cheers with the reduction in the price.
The duties levied on liquor in the wholesale trade have been slashed by 25-60 per cent.
Also in the new policy no quota has been fixed for the sale of Indian made foreign liquor (IMFL) and beer, which means vend owners can sell as much liquor as they can.
Trade insiders told IANS the policy has reduced the number of groups or clusters of liquor vends from about 750 in the last financial year to 177, with the aim to increase control over the liquor trade and tap optimum revenue.
Als, the government gave its nod to allot two special battalions of police to the excise department, in addition to the existing force, for keeping an effective vigil over the excise duty pilferage.
To encourage investment, a provision for a new distillery and brewery licence has been made in the policy for the production of malt spirit which has been done to encourage crop diversification and provide better remuneration to the farmers.
A government official familiar with the matter told IANS earlier that it was the liberal liquor policy of Chandigarh that was hitting neighbouring states the most, including Punjab.
The chief ministers of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh on several occasions had requested the Chandigarh administration to fix a quota for licensees and increase levies as these have been causing an annual revenue loss of Rs 200-Rs 300 crore to them owing to liquor smuggling.
They had argued that allocation of unlimited quota to a licencee in Chandigarh was promoting smuggling of liquor to nearby states.
"Now it is the liberal liquor policy of Punjab that is going to hit neighbouring states the most," added the official.
In Punjab, alcohol is the maximally abused substance by more than two million people, followed by tobacco which is consumed by more than 1.5 million people, finds the latest study by the Chandigarh-based Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER).
The abuse of opioids is by 1.7 lakh individuals, followed by cannabinoids as well as sedative-inhalant stimulants. The latter are largely a class of pharmacological or prescription drugs being used illicitly.
As per the State of Punjab Household Survey and statewide NCD STEPs Survey by the PGIMER, the projected number of overall substance use in Punjab is 15.4 per cent.
Coming out in support of the new liquor policy, Finance Minister Harpal Singh Cheema said the government has targeted to generate Rs 9,600 crore as against Rs 6,200 crore in the last fiscal.
He said earlier liquor purchased from Haryana used to be sold in Punjab. "The days of the liquor mafia are over now," he added.
Responding to Delhi's lieutenant governor V.K. Saxena asking the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to inquire into the Delhi government's excise policy, BJP national general secretary Tarun Chugh said the AAP government's links with the liquor cartel would soon be exposed in Punjab too.
In Punjab also Kejriwal has tried to replicate the Delhi model which would soon be exposed, he added.