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Punjab assembly: Cong, opposition MLAs unite, ask govt to rein in ‘free flow’ of liquor

AAP MLA Kanwar Sandhu raised questions over the motive of the bill, by asking if it would benefit politicians in liquor trade.

punjab Updated: Nov 29, 2017 22:06 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Punjab assembly,Amarinder,Kanwar Sandhu
Finance minister Manpreet Badal presented the bill on behalf of chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh.(HT Photo )

The debate on the Punjab Excise Amendment Bill, 2017, Act brought rare unity between opposition and treasury benches on the last day of the winter session. The bill aims to check smuggling of liquor and proposes to make possession of country-made and foreign liquor exceeding 12 bottles of 750 ml capacity each as non-bailable offence.

Finance minister Manpreet Badal presented the bill on behalf of chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who holds the excise department, and said the law had to be made more deterrent for the offenders.

An amendment was also made to Section 26 (A) in the light of Supreme Court’s clarification that its order prohibiting liquor vends within 500 metres of national and state highways does not apply to licenced liquor vends within the limits of municipal area.

The bill generated a debate on free flow of liquor in the state with Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA Kultar Singh Sandhwa asked how will it prevent smuggling when excise officers “give relief to smugglers.”

SAD’s NK Sharma said unsanctioned liquor vends were flourishing as allottees were opening more liquor vends than allowed in their licence.

AAP MLA Kanwar Sandhu raised questions over the motive of the bill, by asking if it would benefit politicians in liquor trade.

The bill was later passed by voice vote.

Khaira takes dig at Rana Gurjit Singh

Leader of opposition Sukhpal Khaira took a dig at his arch rival, power minister Rana Gurjit Singh, and said there was a “powerful liquor lobby” in the government. Rana got up but speaker Rana KP Singh asked him to sit down.

Soon ruling benches too joined the chorus. Congress MLA Amrinder Singh Raja Warring said liquor vends are mobile now and set shop wherever they see business from grain markets in procurement season to village fairs. “There is a police-liquor contractor nexus,” he said.

He was seconded by Congress MLA Kuljit Nagra who said there is a liquor vend near a school in his constituency and despite protests by villagers, the excise officials are not budging an inch.

BJP MLA Som Prakash said the liquor vends were not being removed despite panchayats passing resolutions against them. SAD’s Sharanjit Singh Dhillon said cases are slapped on those protesting against liquor vends near gurdwaras and temples.

AAP’s Aman Arora wanted the ban to extend to liquor being offered by devotees at shrines of ‘pirs’.

Pathankot MLA Amit Vij of the Congress highlighted the plight of border areas saying liquor is becoming a nuisance and alcoholics had turned village grounds into toilets.

Manpreet assured the House that the government will soon bring a comprehensive excise policy. “We have promised to cut down number of liquor vends by 25% in five years and we stay committed to it. But Punjab bordered by four states, we have to also save our revenue from being hit by smuggling. The amendment will help us achieve that,” he said.

Govt curtailing autonomy of co-op societies: SAD

The House also passed the Punjab Cooperative Societies (Second Amendment), Bill, 2017, which was opposed by the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) saying the government is trying to curtail the autonomy of the societies. SAD’s Parminder Dhindsa said the amendments are only being brought to ease out heads of apex bodies such as Milkfed and Markfed.

Sanaur MLA Harinderpal Singh Chandumajra highlighted the anomaly in the answer given to him on Tuesday on ‘kurki’ clause saying the CM’s reply said kurki has not been used since 1986. “So why did the cabinet claim to abolish it,” he asked. SAD’s Bikram Majithia said co-operative societies are democratic bodies but the government is trying to interfere in their functioning.

Rural development minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa said the amendment aims to provide an opportunity of being heard at government level to creditors and members of the society aggrieved by orders of registrar of cooperative societies in reference to amalgamation, transfer of assets and liabilities and division, and its decision shall be final.

Senior vice-chairman’s post abolished in school board

The assembly also passed the Punjab School Education Board (Amendment) Bill, 2017, which seeks to abolish the post of senior vice-chairman of the board and increase the period of service and cadre criteria for appointment of its chairman. Earlier, a chairman could be a gazetted officer who has served in central or state government or both for 10 years.

After the amendment, the post has been reserved for IAS or PCS officer with 15-year service in central or state government or both.

Deputy leader of opposition Sarabjit Kaur Manuke made a fervent appeal to education minister Aruna Chaudhary to provide facilities to teachers saying they are even performing duties of peons and cooks due to staff crunch.

SAD’s Pawan Kumar Tinu said education is not a profit-making department that schools with less students are being closed down while AAP leader Sukhpal Khaira said the amendment was being done to adjust someone as chairman.

Chaudhary said education is a priority of their government and books and uniforms will be available for next session by February 28. She also defended the proposal to shut down 800 schools saying it would benefit students by bringing them among more students and help the department tide over shortage of teachers.

First Published: Nov 29, 2017 21:50 IST