A four-storeyed Liquor Paradise right in the middle of a market in the state capital epitomizes the future of Madhya Pradesh which chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had promised to be alcohol-free.
However, the lure for monetary gains through liquor auctions seems to have eclipsed the promise, which Chouhan had made ahead of the state elections in 2013, sources said.
Liquor Paradise has a liquor shop on the ground floor and three storeys are reserved for ‘ahata’ (bar attached to the shop officially known as ‘ahata’ in MP).
It opens an hour earlier and closes an hour later than the usual shops--The privilege which many non-liquor shop owners find discriminatory.
Amrit Gupta, who has a small eatery in the Bittan Market, said, “It’s a strange situation. You don’t get tea and snacks at a decent joint till 10.00 am or so. But, you can get liquor from 9.00 am onwards. The time to open these shops, however, is 9.30am. But, nobody stops them. In the night, the police force all the non-liquor shops to close at 10.30. The liquor shops remain crowded till 11.30 pm, as if they are being given the privilege for selling liquor.”
Sources said one of the first cabinet decisions of chief minister Chouhan after taking oath of office for the third term was to allow country liquor shops to sell India-made foreign liquor (IMFL) in villages with a population of 5000 and without a foreign liquor shop in the 10 kilometre radius.
This notwithstanding the fact that he had promised not to allow a new liquor shop to come up in the state besides the alcohol-free promise made before the state elections.
Later, the state government tried to open 200 more foreign liquor shops by proxy.
But, public outrage and adverse media reports forced the chief minister to cancel the decision who then claimed his inner voice prompted him to cancel the decision.
Veteran journalist Chandrakant Naidu in an article had attributed the state government’s haste to somehow raise income from liquor to offset huge losses that it’s anticipating from implementation of goods & service tax (GST)-the tax which it had been opposing tooth and nail during the UPA government.
Sources said after aborted attempts to give 200 new licences, the Chouhan government reportedly decided to please the liquor lobby by allowing liquor shops an hour of privilege, “so that they could carry out their accounting work”.
Sources said the one-hour privilege was deliberately introduced during the 2015-16 auction as a condition.
Bhopal collector Nishant Varvade said he didn’t find anything wrong with the time privilege to the liquor shops, however, added it was a government policy which he had to execute.
The government move is, however, filling the state coffers. Commercial tax minister in-charge of excise department Jayant Mallaiya said, “We expect to collect Rs 1600 crore more from the liquor business this year and the total income from it may go up to Rs 7800 crore.”
Mallaiyya said he did find the one-hour privilege clause for liquor shops a bit awkward . “It won’t be there next year,” he said.