Maharashtra: Alcohol ban in Chandrapur district to go, wine shops to run longer

Sandeep Ashar
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(Express image for representational purpose)

Ban on alcohol consumption in Maharashtra’s Chandrapur district might soon be lifted. Also on the cards is a proposal to allow wine shops across the state to run for an additional hour.

After rolling out a new farm loan waiver scheme and deciding to launch subsidized food canteens, the Uddhav Thackeray-led government is now tapping sources to shore up revenues, and reversing the prohibition of liquor sale in Chandrapur is high on the agenda.

In April 2015, Chandrapur had become the third district in Maharashtra to go dry, with then Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government prohibiting alcohol sale and revoking all the 500 liquor licenses in Chandrapur. In the four-and-a-half years since the ban came into force, the state exchequer has lost Rs 200 crore a month in excise revenue.

During a meeting convened by Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister Ajit Pawar on January 9, the excise department, which favors the lifting of the ban, has also argued that smuggling of liquor has skyrocketed since Chandrapur was declared a dry district. “Official records, with both the police and excise department, indicate that there has been a 10-fold rise in illegal liquor smuggling,” a senior official said.

Liquor remains a divisive issue in the district that has a sizeable labor force engaged in the intensive coal mining and steel production sector. It was also a much-debated issue among the voters during the 2019 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.

Last month, Thackeray had announced a new farm loan waiver scheme, writing off loan arrears of farmers with dues up to Rs 2 lakh. The government will also launch the Shiv Bhojan scheme from January 26, offering Rs 10 meals to the poor. The additional revenue expenditure comes at a time when debt is mounting on the public exchequer.

Meanwhile, to mop up additional revenue, a proposal being considered to permit all wine shops across the state to run for an hour longer. While wine shops are at present permitted to run till 10.30 pm in major cities, the plan is to allow them to run till 11.30 pm.

“Bars are allowed to function till 1.30 pm,” an official pointed out. With there being a freeze on the issuance of new liquor licenses, a contentious proposal of allowing licensed bars to open up liquor sale pick-up counters is also being considered.

With Maharashtra still identifying itself as a liquor prohibition state, sources said that the political leadership views this proposal as being “very sensitive”. While the previous regime had approved a proposal to decrease the number of statutory dry days from nine to five, sources said that the new government favors continuing with eight.

For 2019-20, the state has targeted earning Rs 17,477 crore from excise revenue. It is the third-highest revenue grosser in the state after GST, stamps and registration fees.

The big concern for the government is the sharp dip in GST collections, which are running 10 percent behind targetted revenue. With there being a limitation on increasing tax revenues in the GST regime, sources said that the state’s emphasis in the upcoming Budget will be on increasing non-tax revenues. Monetization of land and utilization of the land bank will be done more aggressively, an official said.

With the real estate sector is slowdown mode, Maharashtra has not increased the ready reckoner (RR) rates for stamps and registration fees during the last three years. But sources said that rise is on the cards this time. However, instead of being a universal hike, the government is mulling the option of rationalizing the RR rates. In other words, pockets where real estate activity has been intense and where RR values are lower than the actual property rates will brace for an increase.