Take a drive across the city and you would find huge hoardings with Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal hawking some inane scheme or other. One such hoarding displayed these days says that even children from middle-class poor families can now speak English, courtesy of some Delhi government scheme.
Now one wonders what makes the Delhi government categorize middle-class families as poor. Secondly and more importantly, what makes him believe that the children from these families were waiting all the while for Kejriwal to launch a scheme to start learning the English language? These hoardings are nothing more than an attempt by AAP leadership to paper over the cracks which has come to manifest in the functioning of the Delhi government.
The New Indian Express last Friday broke the news of the Delhi government deciding on the reversal of the new excise policy. This move has come in the face of the charges of huge corruption against the deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia in the allotment of the liquor vends and the probe being carried out by the various agencies.
The charges against the government include cartelisation, facilitating monopolies and favouring blacklisted firms. There is sufficient evidence in the public domain to back these charges, which probably has made the Delhi government go for a rethink, for the reasons of saving its own skin.
No wonder a normally aggressive Arvind Kejriwal is going soft on the aggressive position taken on several issues by Lieutenant Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena, including the liquor policy. For the Delhi government, which often spends beyond its income, a liberal excise policy was seen as a move to keep the cash box clinging. That did not happen as in eight months just one-fifth of the targeted 10,000 crores annual revenue could be raised.
While the policy did not exactly help the finances of the Delhi government, there were charges that firms were favoured to help the ruling party in Delhi build its own coffers. No wonder, with his party on the back foot, the chief minister now wants to smoke the peace pipe with the office of the Lieutenant Governor, something which he has never done with Saxena’s predecessors, be it Najib Jung or a more than ‘cooperative’ Anil Baijal.
Without commenting on the merit of the charges levelled, we should not also forget the new excise policy created a new social concern. The cheap availability of liquor, one free bottle with every bottle purchased, created upheaval in several households. The joke is since Kejriwal gave women a free ride in the buses, they should not grudge a free liquor bottle to their spouses even if it all ended in the case of domestic violence.
While the long queues outside the liquor stores have become an eyesore, there are problems beyond them too. The new excise policy entailed that was no need of getting a temporary P-10 licence for serving liquor at weddings and other such events at licensed premises of banquet halls, farmhouses, motels and similar venues.
The licensed premises included farmhouses, banquet halls and motels. These and other party venues having L-38 licence were allowed to host any type of entertainment activities such as live singing performances by professionals, dancing, karaoke and live bands.
Without wanting to sound like an advocate of complete prohibition, one cannot but be critical of the liberal liquor policy of Delhi. It’s true that prohibition leads to the menace of life-threatening sale of illicit liquor and also loss of revenue to the government. However, the government at the same time cannot be seen to be acting as liquor hawkers.
Author and president, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice