Row over meeting to ‘increase’ liquor consumption in Madhya Pradesh

A BJP leader said the circular had a typo. The meeting was called to discuss the consumption rate of liquor,” he said
The department cancelled the meeting after the controversy erupted. (HT FILE)
The department cancelled the meeting after the controversy erupted. (HT FILE)
Updated on Oct 12, 2021 11:41 PM IST
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The commercial tax department of Madhya Pradesh had to cancel a proposed meeting on “increasing the consumption of liquor” in the state after a controversy erupted, with the Congress pointing out that the state government had promised to make the state “liquor free.”

In February, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced that he wants to make Madhya Pradesh a liquor-free state which will be done by running a campaign to stop people from consuming alcohol.

A circular was issued on Monday in which the deputy secretary of the commercial tax department called a meeting of commissioners and deputy commissioners of the excise department through video conference on Tuesday. The circular read “madira khapat mein vriddhi hetu baithak (meeting on increasing the consumption of liquor)”.

However, the department cancelled the meeting after the controversy erupted. Excise department commissioner Rajeev Dubey called it a normal meeting to discuss the status of revenue through liquor and said that it couldn’t take place because of other scheduled meetings.

An officer of the excise department, requesting anonymity, said, “The meeting was called as the tax collection from liquor sale has been decreased by 10% after the MP Excise (Amendment) Act came into force. Now, a shopkeeper has to give a bill on the purchase of any liquor but they are selling liquor without a bill. Black marketing is rampant and the meeting was called to discuss how to crack down on this black marketing.”

Dubey also accepted that there was a dip in the sale of liquor in MP. He said, “Like slow-down in the sale of many other products, the sale of liquor has also dipped due to Covid-19 but it doesn’t mean that we were going to make a policy decision to increase the consumption. It was a routine meeting which happened every week to discuss income and consumption rate.”

However, the opposition launched an attack on the BJP-led state government for fooling people.

Congress senior leader and MLA Govind Singh said, “The state government and BJP leaders are staging the drama of putting a ban on liquor in MP but in reality they want more people to start consuming alcohol. The government has nothing to do with people and their health, they are focussing on minting money only.”

BJP spokesperson Hitesh Vajpayee said the circular had a typo. “The meeting was called to discuss the consumption rate of liquor in MP not to increase the consumption but opposition leaders, who don’t have any issue to raise, are taking advantage of a typing error.”

After Gujarat and Bihar, the MP government was also planning to prohibit the sale of liquor in a phased manner. In 2017, the MP government shut 58 liquor shops located within 5 kilometres of the Narmada river. However, the state government changed its stand in 2018 and the then finance minister Jayant Malaiya said the ban of liquor would decrease the revenue and it will affect many people-centric schemes.

But the matter again came to light in February this year when the former chief minister and BJP senior leader Uma Bharti announced to hold a campaign against the consumption of alcohol and CM Chouhan also announced in Katni that a campaign will be run to stop people from consuming alcohol.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021