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Consumers shell out extra for booze as govt goes easy on errant vends

Charging above MRP on any pretext is an offence under the Legal Metrology Act provisions. But this law is never invoked against the shopkeepers. As per the new liquor policy adopted in May, liquor vends need to be penalised six times before their licence is revoked.

dehradun Updated: Nov 02, 2017 20:39 IST
Anupam Trivedi 
Anupam Trivedi 
Hindustan Times
Uttarakhand,maximum retail price (MRP),liquor
Vendors charge Rs 10-30 extra on a quarter bottle of an IMFL brand depending on location of an outlet.(HT File)

DEHRADUN: Here’s a dampener for those who seek to lift their spirits by downing a peg or two. They will have to continue paying a little extra for every bottle of booze in Uttarakhand.

Even as complaints of charging over and above the maximum retail price (MRP) for liquor keep pouring in, the government is trying to wash its hands of the whole brouhaha by penalising errant shopkeepers Rs 5,000 as fine. The liquor vendors pay the fine and continue overcharging the consumers.

Charging above MRP on any pretext is an offence under the Legal Metrology Act provisions. But this law is never invoked against the shopkeepers. As per the new liquor policy adopted in May, liquor vends need to be penalised six times before their licence is revoked. The licence is valid for one year.

Retailers claim they are forced to charge more from customers as they have to “grease the palm” of excise officials — right from inspector to the district level. A sting video shot in Dehradun and widely circulated on the social media purportedly shows shopkeepers refusing to sell liquor at MRP and charging anything between Rs 10-20 over the prescribed rate.

Excise minister Prakash Pant, in a bid to save the department’s image, has asked officials to take action against the erring shopkeepers. Excise commissioner Yugal Pant was removed in a bureaucratic reshuffle Wednesday apparently owing to the controversy over the “over-charging” of liquor.

“We have so far impounded 1,331 shops — several shops were penalised two to three times — and collected Rs 34 lakh fine... Government is stringent against those who don’t follow regulations,” the minister said in a video message. The officials, he said, were reaching out to each of the 506 shops located in Uttarakhand.

The over-charging of liquor is a wide-spread phenomenon. For instance, vendors charge Rs 10-30 extra on a quarter bottle (180 ml) of an Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) brand depending on location of an outlet. The over-charging is higher in hills where customers have no say.

But liquor traders justify the over-charging. One of the prominent traders of Dehradun alleged that excise officials seek “commission” on sales. “Right from the inspector to the officials of respective police stations asks for their cut. From where are we are supposed to give that?” he asked.

Liquor plays a prominent role in state politics. During the Congress regime, a sting video had come out purportedly showing an IAS officer fixing deal for money with a particular brand. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), then in opposition, had trained guns on the Harish Rawat government for playing into the hands of liquor mafia. The party, after assuming power, had promised to keep the business clean.

“The government has made provisions so that a retailer earns 20-25% on every bottle after paying all expenses. However, the palm greasing that was visible in the last regime is still on,” alleged a sales official with a leading liquor brand.

In Uttarakhand, 35 lakh crates of IMFL are sold every year. One crate contains 12 bottles. Similarly, some 26 lakh crates of beer are sold while country liquor accounts for 18 lakh odd crates. Consumer rights activists say that while consumers are being cheated of their money, the excise department claims to have done its duty by slapping a fine of Rs 5,000 on the erring shopkeepers.

“Why not take action against the shops under MRP Act...? We are ready to take up such cases if complainants approach us,” All India Consumers Council president Brig (retd) KG Behl asserted.

Pant, however, denies the government going soft on errant shopkeepers. He adds that the offenders can face cancellation of the shop licenses if the complaints come again against them. In the last financial year, the government earned Rs 1,685 crore against the target of Rs 1,900 crore. For the ongoing fiscal, the target has been set at Rs 2,100 crore.

First Published: Nov 02, 2017 20:38 IST