A sudden spurt in sale of illicit liquor and deaths related to it have created ripples in the political sphere in Madhya Pradesh as the Congress has slammed the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led for its proposal to increase the number of liquor shops to boost supplies.
With close to 50 deaths due to spurious liquor in the last nine months in Madhya Pradesh, the Shivraj government is in a spot of bother, unable to regulate the liquor policy to keep revenues intact and also check sale of illicit alcohol.
A couple of days ago, state Home Minister Narottam Mishra came up with a contentious plan to check the growth of illicit liquor by proposing that authorised liquor shops be increased in MP. The minister based his proposal on the fact that in states like Maharashtra, there are 21 shops per lakh population but in MP, the average is a mere four.
To boost supplies, the state government is discussing a plan to supply liquor online. Interestingly, both the proposals originally were mooted by the Kamal Nath government and, incidentally, the BJP then in opposition had created great hue and cry over the same.
The BJP had even alleged that Kamal Nath was out trying to convert Madhya Pradesh into Madira Pradesh (Liquor state). However, a kind of role reversal is taking place in the state now.
Mishra on Thursday reiterated that MP has fewer numbers of liquor shops as compared to neighbouring states and at times this discrepancy leads to supply of illicit liquor, which is why he was backing increased numbers of liquor shops in the state.
Already critical of the deaths due to consumption of spurious liquor, MPCC chief Kamal Nath has slammed the move saying it’s a shameful decision by the Shivraj government.
Notably, not only the BJP-Congress are deviating from their stances on liquor policy but their partymen are also voicing different views than the organisation.
Former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Uma Bharti on Thursday denied toeing the party line on liquor policy while suggesting the closing down of liquor shops instead of increasing them. "It’s laudable statement from CM Shivraj that no decision has been taken on increasing liquor shops in MP," tweeted Bharti. She claimed that BJP victory in Bihar has vindicated that liquor ban ensured landslide win for Nitish Kumar.
“Revenue loss due to liquor ban could be made up from other sources but liquor driven rapes, murders, accidents and so on are a blot on the Indian society,” claimed Bharti calling for liquor ban in the state.
Congress camp too faced deviation from party line. Party MLA and brother of Rajya Sabha MP Digvijaya Singh, Lakshman Singh backed BJP move to increase the numbers of liquor shops. He supported the home minister’s idea of opening liquor shops in far flung areas saying it will boost agro industries, which will boost farmers’ income and job opportunities. “If demand is high, what is wrong in opening new shops,” said Singh.
Kamal Nath on Wednesday tweeted that Congress will pose massive opposition to any increase in liquor shops alleging the BJP government was pushing the state into a web of addiction. “On the pretext of spurious liquor issue, the BJP government is planning to hike liquor shops,” Nath had claimed.
Meanwhile, the death toll in Morena hooch tragedy rose to 28 with three more deaths in the last few days.
In Madhya Pradesh, tax collection from liquor sale is key component of the state's revenue sources. As in the year 2019-20, the state earned Rs 8,521 cr while the same has surged to Rs 10,318 cr in the current fiscal.
The excise department is also recording huge losses as production and sale of spurious liquor has surged in recent past especially in lockdown period when liquor shops were closed.
Besides, to cool down rising liquor prices in MP, the Shivraj government is pondering over handing liquor contracts to smaller groups of three shops each. During the Kamal Nath government, liquor trade had slipped into monopoly of two-three major groups which led to cartelisation and steep price hike.
There were 2,221 liquor shops in the state in year 2003-04 which rose to 2770 in the year 2010-11. By the financial year 2020-21, there are 2,544 shops of Indian Made Foreign Liquor while there are 1,061 desi liquor shops.