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Road mishap exposes flaws in administration

india Updated: Nov 14, 2006 17:44 IST
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The gruesome accident on Carter Road in Bandra, where a group of drunk teenagers ran over six sleeping labourers has again brought into focus the lack of strict enforcement of laws relating to liquor consumption. 

Though liquor consumers need to have a permit from the state excise department for possession, consumption and transportation of liquor, officials admit that the supervision is lax. 

In fact, Maharashtra, which recorded country liquor and IMFL sales worth 32 crore bulk litres last year, has only around 3 lakh permit holders. However, mild beer drinkers are exempt from carrying a liquor consumption permit.
 
Surprisingly, while the legal age for consumption of beer and IMFL stands at 21 years and 25 years respectively, the accused in the accident case are well below that.

However, despite Sunday's accident, state excise officials said they had not planned any special drives to check if the patrons in the pubs and permit rooms were indeed above the legal age for drinking and were permit holders.

Said SN Chavan, Superintendent, State Excise (Mumbai suburbs), "Our officials have been given standing instructions on keeping a check on liquor vends. However, no special drive has been planned in the backdrop of the incident." 

Officials were however, unable to provide details about the total number of people prosecuted for violations. Apart from the state excise officials, the police can also verify if the liquor consumers are permit holders. 

Despite around 100 staffers from the 23 divisions and four flying squads in the city being empowered to act on violations, officials admit that the supervision of these laws is lax, despite the offence being a non-bailable one. 

One of the reasons for the low response from the people towards the permits lay in the high cost of the permits, which stood at Rs 5 for a daily permit, Rs 100 for an annual permit and Rs 1,000 for a lifetime permit. Availability was also a problem with the annual and lifetime permits being available only in the excise offices, which are located at very few places in the city.

However, officials and hoteliers complain that the permits are a leftover of the prohibition era, and are often used to harass the ordinary consumers.

The liquor permit system was introduced and enforced in the prohibition era and these permits were used like ration cards with the shopkeepers releasing a fixed number of units to the holders who were permitted to drink on 'health grounds'.

The restaurant or vendor would enter the quantity of liquor bought on the permit. Anyone who wanted an additional quota, had to take liquor from some other persons permit.

The revenue earned from the sale of permits too stands at a modest Rs 70 lakh as compared to the annual state excise revenues of Rs 2,808 crore in 2005-06.

The current financial year's projected earning stands at Rs 3,100 crore.

However, the stigma attached to liquor consumption ensures that the government cannot scrap the archaic law.

Email dhaval.kulkarni@hindustantimes.com

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