Madhya Pradesh government to run liquor shops amid row with contractors

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The Madhya Pradesh government started preparations on Tuesday to run liquor shops whose licences were surrendered by contractors amid a standoff between the two sides on reopening the vends.

About 70 per cent contractors have surrendered their licences. They have refused to open their liquor vends for well over two weeks due to poor sale owing to the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak. This had put them on a collision course with the BJP government in the state.

The state government has now decided to run more than 1,000 liquor shops across the state till it finds new contractors in the rebidding process, as per officials.

On Thursday, hearing petitions of liquor contractors, the Madhya Pradesh high court’s Jabalpur bench said that those who want to run the shops as per the state government’s rules should file an affidavit within three days. It allowed the state government to go for rebidding of the remaining shops.

As per the officials of the state excise department, additional manpower is required to reopen and run the shops. It has asked the home guard department for assistance in smooth operation of these outlets. The revenue generated from these shops will be deposited in the sub-treasury of the district with the help revenue department officials.

In his letter to director general of Home Guard, dated June 7, excise commissioner Rajiv Chandra Dubey said, “Execution of the (bidding) process after closure of liquor shops is expected to take 15 to 30 days. In the circumstances the department will have to run more than 1000 liquor shops. The department doesn’t have sufficient staff to run such a big number of shops. At the same time, the department has to take action to control (sale of) illicit liquor too. Hence, it is requested that home guards be made available to the districts as per their demands.”

The places where liquor contractors surrendered their licences include major cities like Indore, Bhopal, Jabalpur, Gwalior too.

An excise department official who didn’t want to be named said, “It will take at least 3 to 4 days in making all the preparations for running the shops in the entire state.”

In state capital Bhopal, district collector Tarun Kumar Pithode issued an order on Tuesday for 32 shops which make country made liquor and Indian made foreign liquor (IMFL) to run. The shops will be run by the excise department personnel with a supervisor assigned to look after groups of two to four shops.

Talking to mediapersons, Dubey said, “The process to run the shops has begun and these will be reopened by Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning.”

The excise commissioner said that safety norms at the shops like social distancing, sanitisation etc would be ensured.

The tug of war between the state government and the contractors has been going on for about a month. The contractors want the licence fees reduced given closure of shops due to Covid-19 and reduced sale after lockdown restrictions were lifted.

Liquor shops opened in the state on May 7 after 45 days, but since the state government didn’t concede to the contractors demands to reduce the licence fee, about 30 contractors moved the high court.

The state government was expected to have a revenue of about Rs 10,500 crore in the present financial year through auction of liquor shops.

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