In what appears to be the first sign of a volte-face, the Bihar government is mulling to start the retail of Indian-made foreign liquor (IMFL) within all municipal and nagar parishad limits through the Bihar State Beverage Corporation Limited (BSBCL), instead of going for complete prohibition as it had earlier proposed.
However, the state will not allow the sale of any form of liquor in village panchayats, where women had raised their voice against the same.
On November 26, chief minister Nitish Kumar had announced that the state will go dry from April 1, 2016. On Thursday, Nitish reiterated his resolve for full prohibition, while addressing a review meeting of rural development department, also acknowledging the role of women members of self-help groups in seeking such a measure.
The decision to ban the sale of liquor was widely appreciated, with several states pressing their leadership to follow Bihar’s suit.
However, sources in the excise department, wishing not to be quoted, said that the sale of country-made liquor would be banned.
The state government, through a series of advertisements published in local dailies on Thursday, also made its intention clear, inviting tenders for shops, godowns with ATMs and CCTVs for retail shops within municipal limits.
Tenders have also been floated to invite companies to provide private security guards at shops and godowns as well as to outsource employees at these shops.
The advertisements in newspapers come close on the heels of a meeting with a delegation of IMFL sellers with RJD chief Lalu Prasad at his residence on Wednesday.
So far, BSBCL has been solely responsible for the wholesale trade of IMFL and earns a maximum of 2% profit on the maximum sale price. The retailers earn a profit of 15% on MRP. The state earns revenue of around Rs 4,000 crore annually from liquor sale from nearly 9,000 shops.
Sources in the excise department said that the step to sell liquor within municipal limits and nagar parishads is being taken to bridge the deficit likely to accrue out of ban of country liquor in villages.
The state had earlier tried its hand at prohibition in 1977-78, but failed to implement it effectively. In 2007, the Kumar government changed its liquor policy to shore up internal revenue in the fund-starved state. It paid dividends and revenue collection from over 9,000 outlets and vends registered a more than 10-fold jump — from a paltry Rs 319 crore in 2005-06 to Rs 3,650 crore in 2014-15.
The main opposition party in state assembly, BJP, which had announced to support the government’s move, questioned the government’s intention on the issue.
“A series of self-contradictory statements is coming up on the prohibition issue — talks of complete ban, Lalu Prasad meeting liquor sellers’ delegation, BSBCL looking for godowns and retail sale. Different postures put a question mark on the government’s commitment,” tweeted senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi, who, as finance minister of Bihar, had pioneered the expansion of liquor sales through licensed vends by organising the trade.
JD (U) leader and a former minister Shyam Rajak, however, defended the government. “There is no difference in acts and commitment of chief minister Nitish Kumar,” he said.