Ahatas turn crime dens, eat into bar business
City bars are up in arms against 'ahatas', authorised open drinking places attached to liquor vends on all major roads such as MG Road and Gurgaon Expressway, mainly run by the liquor mafia. Bar authorities say local vends are hampering their business.
A total of 67 ahatas have been allotted so far but sources say the number is much higher. The rising BPO and pub culture in Gurgaon lured the mafia to use clout and gain enormous proportions while the Haryana government remains a mute spectator.
As per the Excise Act guidelines, ahatas are allowed to offer food items to visitors who come fetch liquor from the vend.
They are supposed to offer just a table and chair, that too after paying the annual licence fee of R1 lakh. However, a majority of these ahatas have been upgraded as air-conditioned restaurants and dented the sales of fine dining restaurants with bar facilities. With these outlets not paying any tax, crores of rupees which should have gone to the kitty of the state government are lost.
Bars, in contrast, get the annual licence for R6 lakh and make huge investments in terms of promotions as well as fixtures.
The ahatas have turned into crowd pullers as people find it cheaper and convenient.
At times, even parties are hosted in these vends and liquor bottles are illegally sold to visitors.
The mafia directly sells Indian and foreign liquor to consumers at discounted prices.
Saurabh Pathak, a BPO executive who works in IBM Gurgaon, said, "The staff at liquor vends are uneducated and ill-mannered. They do not behave properly. No one can question them. Most of them are local goons hired from nearby villagers and they are ready to pick up fights all the time."
Other Gurgaonites said they prefer buying liquor from government approved liquor vends in Delhi.
"We cannot rely on private dealers as they can fake liquor too. There are no checks on them," said Anuj Sharma, an employee of HCL.
Excise and taxation department officials accept the fact that bootleggers are active in Gurgaon.
"A couple of years ago, liquor made in Rajasthan and Punjab used to be sold illegally by the bootleggers. Since the mandatory quota of retailers in Haryana itself is very high and they are not able to exhaust the entire stock, they sell some of the supply in the open market to bootleggers at very low margins. Touts sell the same in Gurgaon unauthorisedly," said an excise official.