Of policies and bribery: Mystery of Uttarakhand's missing alcohol
A month ago, Uttarakhand's tourism industry faced a strange crisis -- tourists visiting Nainital, Ranikhet, Mussoorie in Uttarakhand could not find their favourite liquor brands in the markets. Hotels and restaurants were left equally clueless and failed to provide their guests a good drink.
If liquor traders are to be believed this artificial shortage was created by some government officials and when on Wednesday the BJP
of excise secretary Mohammad Sahid allegedly inking a deal of Rs 100 crores with a liquor trader for permitting wholesale liquor trade in the state, they were not surprised.
“We knew about this. Some officials in the government were asking for particular fee per case and when companies refused the supply was blocked,” said a senior official of a liquor company based in Dehradun.
Some industry insiders say around 55 lakh cases are sold – each containing a dozen alcohol bottles -- per year. A trader, who didn’t wish to be named, said barring two liquor brands owned by multinational companies, all others, especially Indian companies, have bowed down to the demands.
“After facing huge losses for almost two months we had no option but to settle the deal,” a sales official revealed to HT.
HT has copies of several letters from retailers to the government complaining about the outage they faced in the last two months. HT also reported this issue in June this year.
“I deposited Rs 60 lakh with the department but got stock worth only Rs 42 lakh. How can I run business like this? Please allow us to procure stock directly from distilleries,” Sulochana Devi, a liquor shop owner at Raiwala wrote in her letter to the Dehradun district magistrate on June 17.
Harish Rawat-led Congress government launched new excise policy in May this year. Under the revised policy, State Agricultural Produce Marketing Board (SAPMB) has been authorised to procure all major brands of foreign liquor and distributes them to the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam and Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam, which in turn supplies the same to retailers.
But, there is a loophole in the policy. One clause of the policy says, if needed, the SAPMB can lookout for commercially more viable options. Critics, however, say the clause might lead to the handover of liquor distribution rights to a vendor.
Former state excise minister Madan Kaushik of the BJP explained that wholesale liquor rights of a particular vendor meant monopoly in the business but benefits to only a few. The vendor can also be in nexus with the the government and push a monopoly alcohol trade, he added.
This is the reason why Congress wanted such a rule, but they faced stiff opposition in the state assembly, Kaushik said.
“We opened the trade for everyone to end monopoly of a single trader. But the present government revised policy with mala fide intentions. Wholesale business is in hands of a government agency but everyone knows what it means,” said Kaushik.
He said there is a strong reason to believe the content showed in CD.
Liquor trade is one of the biggest industries in the state. This year state government has set a revenue target of Rs 1800 crores from the industry. Nonetheless, activists, particularly women, have been opposing liquor sale in the state claiming that alcohol consumptions ruins families.
But considering the fact that Uttarakhand has a tourism-based economy, governments have always pushed for liquor trade.