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Haryana

Implementing liquor ban in Hry villages uphill task

December 07, 2019 05:27 AM

COURTESY HT DEC 7

Neeraj Mohan and Sunil Rahar

letterschd@hindustantimes.com

Karnal/Rohtak : Empowering villagers to stop the sale of liquor from a licensed shop in a gram panchayat area was an issue that both the BJP and its post-poll ally, the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP), promised in their election manifestoes to address a social issue that resonates with rural women due to alcohol abuse in families. Stakeholders, however, feel that implementing this ban will be a challenge.

An amendment bill to modify Section 31 (1) of the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act was passed by the assembly on November 26. The amendment provided that liquor sale will be prohibited in a village if 10% members of a gram sabha pass a resolution.

“The idea was to empower people, particularly women, otherwise the law provided for a resolution by the gram panchayat,” said an excise official.

Stakeholders believe that implementation will be a challenge, particularly in the light of the fact that the same law provides for the rejection of such resolutions by the excise and taxation commissioner (ETC). Section 31 (3) of the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act provided that liquor ban resolutions will not be binding upon the ETC if illicit distillation or alcohol smuggling was being carried out or connived in within two years preceding the date of the resolutions.

Four years ago health minister Anil Vij and Fatehabad district police chief Sangeeta Kalia had a spat over the unlawful sale of liquor in Fatehabad district.

Referring to ‘khurdas’, the IPS officer told Vij during a district grievance committee meeting that the state government was facilitating the illegal sale of liquor. Unauthorised liquor outlets running in villages and suburbs are called ‘khurdas’. They literally ensure the delivery of liquor at the doorstep. Soft excise laws ensure that the perpetrator gets bail immediately and in certain cases is let off by simply paying a penalty.

‘RESOLUTIONS GET REJECTED’

The rejection rate of the resolutions is high. According to excise officials, 400 villages across the state resolved to shut down liquor vends last year but only 100 got approval. “We seek a police report for every resolution. One gap in the report is enough for rejection,” says an official.

There are 2,300 villages in the state that have liquor vends.

Last year, 46 panchayats opposed the opening of vends in Karnal, Yamunanagar, Kurukshetra, Kaithal and Panipat districts but most of the resolutions were rejected by the excise department on grounds of sale of illegal sale of liquor.

“Even if the resolution is passed, the government may simply shift the liquor vend to a nearby village,” says Darshan Lal, a former sarpanch of Halalpur in Kurukshetra.

Last year, seven panchayats of Kurukshetra district submitted resolutions to shut liquor vends in their villages but none was accepted. Following a protest by residents of Nagla Roran village in Karnal, the government shifted the vend 200 metres away from the village. “The liquor vend is a big problem but the government is not ready to act despite repeated pleas of villagers,” says Amar Singh, an elderly farmer of Nagla Roran. Manish Lathar, the husband of Nagla Roran sarpanch Reena Rani, did not back him and says: “I don’t think villagers are facing any problem from this vend. The panchayat will not submit any resolution against it”.

The sarpanch of Badarpur village in Kurukshetra, Ashok Kumar, also wants the liquor vend located at the village entrance to be shut. “Last year, we passed a resolution but the government did not act. We will move the court if this vend is not shut,” he says.

Yuvraj Sharma, the sarpanch of Khurdband village in Yamunanagar, says: “Last year, we protested against the government for allowing a vend near a school. It was shifted to the outskirts but this time we will file a resolution to close it.”

‘WILL LEAD TO ILLEGAL SALE OF LIQUOR’

There have been instances where sarpanches are themselves involved in liquor trade and thus disagree with villagers.

Residents of Gokalpura village in Bhiwani, for instance, passed a resolution against sarpanch Rakesh Kumar, seeking the closure of a liquor vend. A zila parishad member and resident of the village, Anil Kumar, accused Rakesh of running the vend. Rakesh argued that the vend generates revenue for the panchayat. “Shutting it is not a solution because people will buy liquor from neighbouring villages. It will only promote illegal sale,” he says.

The sarpanch of Kandela village in Jind, Ajmer Singh, says residents in his village will pass a resolution to ban the liquor vend there since women have complained of harassment. “Schoolchildren also get hooked and there are brawls every other day,” he says.

While a resident of a village in Hisar, Yashika Sihag, believes that closing of liquor vends will help keep youngsters from liquor, a school teacher from Sampla in Rohtak, Santosh Devi, says it’s not a solution as consumers will start getting alcohol from unauthorised sources.

Former Haryana excise and taxation minister and Congress leader Kiran Choudhry says there’s nothing new about the law. “It’s all about honouring the mandate of the panchayat and villagers. The BJP government has faltered in checking the illegal sale of liquor because of which spurious liquor is making its way to homes. That’s a pitfall and the state government has no will to check this,” she says

 
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