BENGALURU: Tipplers will have reason to cheer new Excise Minister Manohar Tahsildar as he is keen to issue fresh licences for opening 1,750 wine stores and bars in the state.
The minister wants to lift the freeze, in force since 1992, on issuing of licences for opening new liquor outlets.
“In 1992, the number of wine stores and bars was restricted after taking into account the population figures of the 1991 Census. No new licences have been issued since 1992. The population in the state has seen a sharp rise in the last two-and-a-half decades. Another 1,750 liquor shops could be opened to meet the needs of the present population for quality liquor at a reasonable price.
“We are considering the proposal and I have discussed the issue with Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, but no decision has been taken yet,” Tahsildar said addressing a gathering of the Balija community here on Sunday. Defending the proposal, the Excise Minister said it was the responsibility of the government to ensure availability of quality liquor at a reasonable price within reasonable distance for the common man. Currently, the state has about 15,000 liquor shops and bars, which are inadequate. So issuing new licences has become inevitable, he said.
“It would also provide employment for youths from the backward communities and Dalits, bringing additional revenue for the government and curb the menace of spurious liquor,” he added.
Successive governments have dodged the issue in the last two decades fearing a political backlash considering the sensitivity of any new initiative related to the liquor business. Former chief ministers H D Kumaraswamy and B S Yeddyurappa had refused to consider the request for new bar licences to generate additional revenue.
Instead, the JD(S)-BJP coalition government, it may be recalled, banned the manufacture and sale of arrack with an eye on political gains. “The decision will also ensure a rise in excise revenue for the government as tipplers would have no choice but the neighbourhood wine shop to get high,” Yeddyurappa had argued defending the ban.
The proposal for opening new wine shops and bars had found favour with former Excise minister Satish Jarkiholi too.
He had even suggested to the chief Minister to convene an all-party meeting to take all opposition parties into confidence before taking a decision. However, Siddaramaiah showed no interest as he sensed the possibility of opposition parties seizing the issue to corner Congress politically.
“The government was ready to issue new licences. But there has been opposition from many quarters. Hence, the government is hesitant to take a decision in this regard,” Jarkiholi had said, hinting at the possible political backlash.
According to sources in the Excise Department, since mid-1999s, the department had sent proposals on three occasions to successive state governments to issue new licences for liquor shops and bars. But no decision was taken.
Siddaramaiah, who had expressed his desire to introduce cheap liquor for the poor immediately after assuming office, had to beat a hasty retreat after a strong attack from the opposition and the anti-liquor lobby, which includes many NGOs and social activists.