As many as five districts in Maharashtra or certain talukas within them may opt for a ban on alcohol, with state excise minister Eknath Khadse on Wednesday admitting they have consistently been making demands for prohibition.
Chandrapur in Vidarbha became the third district after Wardha and Gadchiroli, also in Vidarbha, to ban alcohol following a clearance by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government this year.
“There have been demands by women’s groups in Bhandara, Nagpur, Yavatmal, Pandharpur in Solapur, Tuljapur (Osmanabad) and Muktainagar (Khadse’s constituency in Jalgaon) for prohibition. We have laid down a clear procedure and law for the same. If a majority of the gram sabhas pass such a resolution, we will hold secret ballots and announce prohibition there,’’ said Khadse.
However, the procedure for such a prohibition is tedious and is easier said than done, given the strong liquor lobby in the state.
As per the existing Maharashtra Prohibition Act amended in 2009, a secret ballot to shut down liquor shops in the area can be called if so demanded by 25% of the women population. In this ballot if 50 % vote against the liquor shop, it can be shut down by local state administration.
For instance, this week, Tuljapur municipal council in Osmanabad passed a resolution calling for prohibition. Post this, a decision to hold a ballot or not gets decided by a committee comprising the collector, the superintendent of police and an excise official.
“Once we get this resolution, a meeting will be called to discuss the issue by the collector, the superintendent of police and an excise department official. We will ascertain whether 25% of women or the total population is keen on it and then initiate the due process. In some villages, following demands in Osmanabad, we have already implemented prohibition,’’ said Dr Prashant Narnaware, collector, Osmanabad.
When asked whether such prohibition could come at the cost of the state revenue, Khadse said there were other ways to augment excise revenues and it would not come in the way of what people want.
It’s about taking collective responsibility: Khadse
Referring to the hooch tragedy in Malvani, state excise minister Eknath Khadse said his department had conducted 117 raids in the area in the past six months. “These people (the arrested accused) were caught earlier but were released on the same day by the court,” he said.
Khadse added that while Congress leader of opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil had called for his resignation, he said the primary responsibility for such a tragedy rests with the home department
“He [Vikhe Patil] then clarified his stance and called for resignation of chief minister. But, this is not about blaming one another but taking collective responsibility,” he said.