In deference to the resolutions passed by village panchayats seeking closure of liquor shops in their respective villages, the excise and taxation department shut down shops in as many as 20 villages in Sangrur district.
The department had received 53 resolutions in the current year against the liquor shops. The assistant excise and taxation commissioner Darbara Singh says the closure of 20 liquor shops would mean a revenue loss of at least Rs 10 crore in the current year. The district has 462 liquor shops-349 in rural area and 113 in Sangrur city. The total number of villages in the district is 596.
The AETC said that in Sangrur, the liquor vends were auctioned for Rs 221 crore in 2014-15 and for Rs 218 crore in 2015-16 with a loss of Rs 3 crore.
Excise inspector Manoj Kumar said there are big villages which have just two vends. When sold, country made liquor sells more than the Indian made foreign liquor throughout the district.
Less consumption with no liquor shop in villages?
Shahpur sarpanch, Chand Singh told HT, "In our village there is no illicit distillation. Habitual consumers, however, get the bottle from other villages".
Fatehgarh Channa sarpanch, Hardam Singh said, "Earlier, there were two liquor shops in the village, one was near a school. As a result of our resolution, that shop has been closed. Now girl students go to school without fear".
When asked if shutting down liquor shops will help people give up drinking, he said, "People do drink in the village but buy the liquor from neighbouring villages".
Kanjhla village sarpanch, Paramjit Kaur had similar views, "People still drink a lot, despite there being no liquor vend in the village". She alleged that an illegal liquor shop on the outskirts of the village sells liquor at low rates.
Dr AS Mann, who runs NGO Scientific Awareness and Social Welfare Forum, when asked to comment on the closure of liquor shops on the request of village panchayats said, "By shutting these shops down, there is has been a 50% drop in consumption of liquor. Some villagers do give up the habit of drinking."
When asked about revenue loss to the department, why people persisted with drinking and on illicit distillation, Dr Mann was evasive. He, however, was positive that persistent efforts to wean people away from liquor do succeed to an extent. "We can't stop the habitual drinkers but new generation can be saved from this evil", he added.
Enquiries with the police revealed that cases registered under the Excise Act in the first quarter of the current year were 136 against 162 in the corresponding period in 2014 and the number of persons arrested was 107 against 170 last year.