More than 500 residents of Dhanaula gheraoed the Assistant Excise and Taxation Commissioner (AETC) SPS Grweal's office on Monday demanding the removal of the liquor vend at Bangehar Patti. The gathering soon took the shape of a protest with the protesters claiming that the excise & taxation officer (excise) (ETO) Ominder Singh, who deals with the area, had promised shifting of the vend by August 20.
The protesters alleged that the administration was dillydallying on their valid demand and representations to the deputy commissioner and excise officials had also not borne any fruit. They claimed that the ETO was now quoting provisions of the excise policy to defend not moving the vend and was protecting the revenue's interests.
Residents counter this by saying that the vend is surrounded by Gurdwara Ramsar Sahib, Ramsar Public School, Government Primary School, Bangehar Patti Gurdwara and Dera Sahib.
"Women residents of the town have been harassed due to this vend as drunk men create nuisance and pass lewd remarks often. We cannot move freely in the area," said a protester Rajwinder Kaur.
Later, members of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) also joined the protestors. BKU leader Jarnail Singh said, "The vend is right in the middle of schools and gurdwaras in a densely populated area. This is vitiating the environment. Drunken men are such a nuisance and also indulge in crimes."
"Punjab claims to have a policy to ensure youngsters are kept away from intoxicants, but officials are reluctant to shift a liquor vend," said Bukkan Singh Saddowal, another BKU leader.
The ETO said, "The liquor vend has been operational at the same spot for five years. We earn more than `80 lakh as licence fee from this vend, besides other income and cannot forego this. If people create a nuisance after drinking, people should approach the police and not us."
He added that had the issue been raised in April, the issue could have been considered.
"The vend is at least 230 m from the gurdwara and 120 m from the school. Norms mandate that a vend can be opened at 50 m from educational, religious and some other special category institutes. A meeting of liquor vend owners and protestors with the deputy excise and taxation commissioner, Navdeep Bhinder has been fixed at Patiala on Tuesday."
In spite of repeated calls, Punjab excise and taxation commissioner Anurag Verma could not be contacted.