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Bihar prohibition triggers party for fiscally-stressed Bengal

In 2018-19, Bengal finance minister Amit Mitra wants to earn 19% of state’s own tax revenue from liquor.

kolkata Updated: Feb 27, 2018 10:49 IST
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Hindustan Times
Bengal,Bihar,Finance
Representative image. Despite opposition from many quarters, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has not reconsidered the prohibition he enforced in April 2016.(HT Photo)

Prohibition in Bihar has come as revenue boom for fund-strapped Bengal.

Bengal’s excise revenue rose by 50% in the second year of the ban on consumption of liquor in Bihar and the state government has projected 82% increase in excise earning for the next fiscal.

Read: Bihar prohibition: Court sends poor widow to 10yr jail for possession of mahua

As per the documents presented in the Bengal assembly, finance minister Amit Mitra projected an income of Rs 5,781 crore for 2017-18 --- 10.36% increase from previous fiscal --- but was happily surprised at end the year to get Rs 8,700 -- a rise of 50%.

The fillip had emboldened Mitra to expect Rs 10,500 crore from liquor sales in 2018-19, an increase of 82% over the estimate projected a year ago. Traditionally, excise revenue increase in Bengal had hovered around 10-15% but prohibition in Bihar has helped Mitra to pump in more money for chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s pet social sector schemes.

According to government officials, alcohol sales is giving the chief minister the much needed elbow room to fund her welfare programmes. Mamata Banerjee has recently hiked old age pension and girl child welfare scheme Kanyashree apart from floating a new programme to give Rs 25,000 to poor families to marry off their daughter. The government has also increased allocation to the rural sector by 82% compared to last year in the budget.

Read: After liquor prohibition, Bihar to achieve de-addiction: Nitish Kumar

“The galloping revenues from alcohol are really interesting. I shall say Bihar’s prohibition is benefitting Bengal, politically and revenue wise,” said Dipankar Dasgupta, former professor ISI.

Significantly, between 2013-14 and 2014-15 -- before the prohibition in April 2016 – taxes from alcohol declined (9%) in Bengal despite overall rise (19%) in the state’s own tax revenue

P K Paul, additional excise commissioner West Bengal, said their job was not to identify whether an individual purchasing liquor from an authorised shop is a resident of Bengal or Bihar. While the officials refused to pinpoint the reason for the spurt, official records state why there is sudden jump in excise revenue.

Read: Bengal refuses to help Bihar to enforce prohibition

Since 2016-17, the towns of Dalkhola and Karandighi in the north Bengal neighbouring Bihar have been witnessing rising sales.

“From the second half of 2017, the crowds began swelling even during weekends. It is clear that tipplers from Bihar and rushing to these towns frequently to quench their thirst,” said O P Gupta, a liquor vendor in Dalkhola.

The area had only three shops in 2015-16. However, after Bihar announced prohibition the number of vends have increase more than four times. “All the application of licenses came after prohibition was imposed in Bihar,” said an excise department official.

Read: States can’t decide what tourists want to eat, drink: NITI CEO on beef ban, prohibition

Trinamool Congress legislator in Karandighi, Monodeb Deb, said that apart from liquor shops and bars, many new lodges and boarding houses have come up in the region during the past couple of years. “These shelters are packed during the weekends and festive seasons. Most of the visitors are from Bihar. There is a boom in the area,” said Deb.

The MLA also praised the customers from Bihar for not creating any law and order problem in the area.

The local CPI(M) Lok Sabha member, Md Salim, said that tipplers from Bihar won’t be foolish enough to create trouble in a safe haven.

First Published: Feb 27, 2018 10:49 IST