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Reopening order fails to lift liquor vendors’ spirits

May 08, 2020 05:36 AM


Reopening order fails to lift liquor vendors’ spirits
NO CHEERS: Contractors want Punjab govt to compensate them for biz loss during lockdown and bring new policy for this year, say home delivery too not viable

A cyclist passes from in front of a closed liquor vend in Amritsar on Thursday. Sameer Sehgal/HT
HT Correspondents

Ludhiana/Bathinda : Liquor vends remained shut in almost all districts of the state on Thursday, with owners claiming they would not be able to pay government fee for opening in the prevailing business conditions. In Ludhiana, 750 liquor vends in 150 groups remained shut. On Wednesday, the state excise and taxation department had issued an order allowing liquor vends to open from 9am to 3pm with home delivery allowed till 6pm.

Punjab was one of the first states to seek permission from the Centre to seek opening of vends, but is yet to put a system in place, to actually do this, four days after this was allowed in phase 3 of the lockdown on May 3. The state has targeted an annual revenue of around Rs 6,200 crore from the trade. In April, the state lost Rs 550 crore.

A wine contractor Neeraj said, “We demand the withdrawal of quota system as regular sales cannot happen in these times. We are ready to open vends if the government fixes commission on sale of liquor.” Another contractor said, “We should not be levied fee for days lost due to curfew.”

In South Malwa region, liquor vends did not open in Bathinda, Fazilka and Muktsar. Home delivery did not take off. In Bathinda, of 350 vends, only six opened in rural areas. In Mansa, vends opened in only three rural zones. Ferozepur deputy excise and taxation commissioner (DETC) HPS Gotra said less than 15% vends opened in Ferozepur, Faridkot and Moga districts, adding contractors were not keen on home delivery. Muktsar DC MK Aravind Kumar said due to the pandemic, only home delivery was allowed till May 10.

Former SAD MLA and liquor baron Deep Malhotra, who has the majority share in liquor business in Bathinda district, said liquor traders wanted the state government to compensate them for loss of business during lockdown. “It is unfair to charge a fee from contractors for 2020-21 fiscal on last year’s revenue, while allowing us to work only for a limited time,” said Malhotra, adding home delivery was not workable. “Due to the pandemic, most of our labour is going to their native places, causing staff shortage. Home delivery also entails risk of infection,” Malhotra added.

Of 47 groups of liquor contractors, only three opened vends in Jalandhar on Thursday. Owners have sought relaxation in licence fee and slashing of tax. In Sangrur, vend owners said the government should clarify whether their licences would be considered valid from April 1 or May 7.

In Majha, no vend opened. “Until a new policy that offers tax relaxation is not brought in, we will not open,” said a Tarn Taran contractor. In Amritsar, which has over 300 positive covid-19 cases, no shop was allowed to open. Shops did not open in Barnala as well.

State cabinet to take call today

Chief secretary Karan Avtar Singh, who is also financial commissioner, taxation, did not respond to calls and messages. A senior officer in the chief minister’s office, however, said this was just a matter of operationalising the liquor vends. “The lockdown restrictions have just been relaxed and they (liquor contractors) need labour, premises, etc. I am sure they will operationalise very soon,” he said.

On their demands, he said these issues would come up before the state council of ministers on Friday.


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