Trouble brews in Bengal's country liquor business

By Indo Asian News Service | Thursday, June 28, 2007 | 7:25:54 PM IST (+05:30 GMT) Comment 0 Comment

Kolkata, June 28 (IANS) An organisation of country liquor manufacturers in West Bengal Thursday demanded immediate review of the state government's proposed new excise policy, saying it would make country liquor dearer for the common man, forcing him to buy 'hooch' or moonshine instead.

Kolkata, June 28 (IANS) An organisation of country liquor manufacturers in West Bengal Thursday demanded immediate review of the state government's proposed new excise policy, saying it would make country liquor dearer for the common man, forcing him to buy 'hooch' or moonshine instead.

The West Bengal Country Spirit Manufacturers and Bottlers Association (WBCSMBA) said the new scheme, which calls for pulling out all stops in the regulated business in country liquor, would result in a hike of Rs 10 per bottle of the liquor.

WBCSMBA executive officer Maulinath Mukherjee told reporters here: 'The policy will result in some Rs.10 million a day going out of the pockets of the poor consumers to fill those of the traders. In the long line of losers will also be the bottling industry, its workers and the government itself.'

'All we want is that a committee of experts of the industry and economists be formed to review the proposed policy before implementing it, in the interests of both the state's revenue and the poor people who comprise 70 percent of the consumers of country spirit,' he said.

Trouble has been brewing ever since West Bengal Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta, in his budget speech on March 16, proposed to do away with the policy of Area of Exclusive Privilege (AEP) and withdraw the government's power to fix the price of country liquor payable by consumers.

Dasgupta also proposed 'liberty to the manufacturers of country spirit to declare the maximum retail price (MRP) for their products' to allow 'fair competition, more production and transparency'.

The association has resented the move and refuted the government's argument that the new MRP policy will augment government revenue by Rs.300 million.

'Instead, it will spell the doom of the small scale country liquor industry in the face of shrinkage of official sale and a 'mafia raj' dominating the market. The future of about 5,000 workers will also be at stake,' WBCSMBA feared.

The manufacturers want the issue to be examined by an independent body of experts and stakeholders or by any qualified consultancy-firm.

In West Bengal, the country liquor business is governed by the Bengal Excise Act, 1909. Its rules, after amendment in 1975, provide for an area of exclusive privilege (AEP) of fixed geographical area for each manufacturing-cum-bottling plant.

As such, 14 units cater to the needs of their specified areas through a little more than 900 vendors. The government determines the price of rectified spirit, the basic raw material that goes into production, as well as the price per bottle. It last year earned a revenue of Rs.4 billion.

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