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Social malaise? Dispur boosts spirits of liquor shops

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  23 April 2016 12:00 AM GMT

Assam government tweaks law to shield mushrooming liquor shops

By our Staff Reporter

GUWAHATI, April 6: Wine shops and beer bars have mushroomed near educatiol institutions, health institutions and places of worship in Guwahati. And the liquor shops will continue to thrive even if it requires the government to tweak existing laws meant to regulate them.

On one hand, while states across India are marching towards total prohibition with even the Supreme Court reminding that the Constitution places a responsibility on governments to “at least contain, if not curtail, consumption of alcohol”, the Assam government has on the other hand, shielded liquor traders encouraging them to set up more shops, anywhere and everywhere in the State.

A gazette notification of the Assam government in March, 2005, had stated that a liquor shop cannot be set up in a radius of 500 metres from hospitals, nursing homes, places of worship and education institutions. The limit was, however, reduced to just 50 metres in another notification issued in December, 2014, apparently to shield dozens of such shops which have come up in the prohibited locations.

However, over the years, liquor shops have mushroomed throughout the city in blatant violation of this location norm.

Delivering its judgment on a writ petition {WP(C) 2856/2012} on June 28, 2013, the Gauhati High Court had issued some directives in this context. The directives are (1) the constitution of a grievance redressal committee by the State Excise department as an administrative measure to oversee and monitor the functioning of the department, (2) the State Excise department carrying out necessary exercise in terms of Rule 184 of the Rules in respect of all liquor licenses granted in Guwahati city after the decision of this court in Rubul Kanti Roy case (after 13-03-2000) as a one-time measure in accordance with law within the stipulated time, (3) placing of the inquiry report before the then Chief Secretary to the Government of Assam, (4) placing a copy of the inquiry report to the CID, Assam Police for the examition of crimil culpability of the persons/officials mentioned in the report, (5) allowing the State Excise department to consider the commendations of the high-power committee regarding amendment of the rules and taking suitable steps, (6) continuation of the government’s November 29, 2001 decision as modified on October 6, 2003, etc.

The directives from the Gauhati High Court prodded Dispur into action that notified on December 30, 2014 in an extraordiry gazette after bringing amendment to the Assam Excise Act, 1910. But instead of cracking down on the erring traders, the new law has only increased their protection cover.

The amendment to the Act involved substitution of – “no IMFL and Beer retail ‘OFF’ licence or retail ‘ON’ license shall be established in municipal corporation areas within a distance of 50 metres, in municipal board and town committee areas within a distance of 100 metres and in gaon panchayat or equivalent body areas within a distance of 250 metres from any place of public worship or educatiol institution or hospitals. No license for retail of liquor or any other intoxicants shall be granted at a site situated within 200 metres from the mid-point of any tiol Highway”.

By the phrase ‘educatiol institutions’, the notification means any primary school, middle school and high school recognized by the State or the Central government or any college affiliated to any of the recognized universities. The phrase, however, does not include any private coaching or tutorial institution.

Meanwhile, replying to queries, the then State Excise minister Ajit Singh informed the State Assembly on August 18, 2014 that ‘there are as many as 29 wine shops within a radius of 500 metres of Cotton College, Handique College and B. Barooah College in the city, the break-up being 12 IMFL ‘OFF’, 13 IMFL ‘ON’, one BEER ‘ON’ and three Club ‘ON’. These apart, there are 25 IMFL ‘OFF’ and nine IMFL ‘ON’ shops in Ganeshguri area. Wine shops and beer bars in Guwahati are allowed to do business till 10 pm’.

This was followed by sending letters to all deputy commissioners of the State by the State Excise department regarding how far their shops should be apart from educatiol institutions, religious institutions and health institutions.

However, the ground reality looks very precarious when social security is taken into account with wine shops and beer bars mushrooming near the institutions mentioned. Among the whole lot of wine shops and beer bars in the city, some of which seem to be very close to such institutions are Olivia Wine Shop near Lakshmi Mandir at Six Mile, Exclusive Wine Shop near Kali Mandir at downtown, Cheers Cross Roads near Gopal Boro High School at Ganeshguri, Hotel Prime Bar/Restaurant near Ganesh Mandir at Ganeshguri, PK Wine Shop near Durga Mandir at Bhetapara, Dee Dee Wine Shop near Durga-Mahadev Mandir on GS Road, Wine Gallery near Durga-Mahadev Mandir on GS Road, HD Wine Shop near Hanuman Mandir at Lachit gar, Roxy Bar and Restaurant near LP School at Bora Service, Zen Liquor near Mahadev Mandir at Ulubari, BM Wine Shop near Shiva Mandir at Manipuri Basti, MK Bar and Restaurant near Nepali Mandir and Gorkha High School at Paltanbazar, Kakai Wine Shop near Mahila mghar at Silpukhuri, Dipu’s Wine Shop and KB Wine Shop near Maharshi Bidyamandir at Boothth, Apollo Bar and Restaurant near Kaliram Baruah Girls High School at Bharalumukh, BN Dey and Co. near Cotton College at Panbazar, Khubchand near Pan Bazar Church, Xika Bar and Restaurant and Modira Wine Shop near Pan Bazar Girls’ HS School.

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