Mounting protests and violence over relocation of highway liquor shops has led to around 3000 shop owners surrendering their liquor licences. Of the 8591 highway liquor shops affected by the SC order, 5334 have relocated when protests began with angry women, mostly in rural areas, attacking and looting liquor vends. Some were even set on fire making many wonder if this would eventually set the stage for Yogi Adityanath government considering a possible liquor ban, a la BJP-ruled Gujarat. But UP’s excise minister Jai Pratap Singh in an interview to HT says the Yogi government isn’t contemplating a liquor ban.
Q: Everyday a liquor vend is either being looted or set on fire. Is this actually setting the stage for a possible liquor ban in the state?
No, we aren’t contemplating that. As of now there is no such discussion. The problem was created due to liquor vends that had to be relocated following the apex court orders banning shops on state and national highways.
Q: But your department reacted very late to the violence, isn’t it?
There was a law and order problem which we have controlled. We have issued clear orders that none would be allowed to take law in their own hands. If people have a problem with relocation they can report the issue to the nearest police station or district authorities. We will look into the issue.
Q: But we hear that about 4000 liquor vend owners have started surrendering their licensees out of fear?
Not 4000, but around 3000 of them have surrendered. But this is basically by those who have run into problems during relocation. While we have assured them of all safety, at the same time we would also ensure that genuine concerns of the people aren’t overlooked.
Q: All this must have led to sharp fall in revenue? How do you make up for it ... earlier you tried to circumvent the SC ban by denotifying the state highways ...
No. We didn’t try to circumvent any court order. See, this should have been done years ago by the last government. And they were sitting on the file for a long time. Everything happened during the previous regime. The SC order on highway ban came during last regime. Then denotification of those bypasses on the highways too should have been done earlier. When we did it, it was considered as if we were trying to save shops from the SC order.
Q: Is the previous government’s excise policy up for review because for several years now we have seen special excise zones, blatant favoritism ... Is all this being looked into?
Yes, 100%. The policy of the previous governments is up for review but due to certain legal constraints we cannot do anything at the moment.
Q: Then how do you change the policy?
We can only do that in 2018.
Q: Meaning the time when the previous policy ends?
Yes. And we are making a new policy. We are taking inputs from various state governments. We will ensure that the monopoly is finished totally. It would be a total open market and the revenues would increase accordingly. We have time and you would see the change.
Q: We hear that you are now going to strictly implement the order on no liquor shops within 500 metres of religious places, educational institutes or even residential colonies?
In 2008, SC gave a very objective order for the entire country saying that no liquor vend around 75 metres of a school, religious place etc. But now with increase in population density the number of schools, hospitals have increased. This has led to increase in conflicts and that is why we have decided that no liquor shop would be relocated within 500 metres of religious places, hospitals. In case of objection even residential colonies will come under the ambit. At the moment it isn’t in a very formal shape. But we are working on it.
Q: This would only be in case of fresh shops or relocated ones or even old ones?
In relocation cases and fresh allotments. In old shops where no one is complaining there won’t be any review.
Q: We also hear that the new policy might consider holding liquor shop owners accountable if liquor is served to minors in shops or bars?
Yes, we are considering that. As per law minors can’t buy or consume liquor anyway. So you could see raids in bars or pubs and liquor shops.