Has liquor smuggling led to rise in excise collection?
When imposing the ongoing curfew earlier this month, the one surprising announcement from the government was that standalone liquor shops in the State would remain open during the morning hours.
This, when even markets have been closed, restaurants kitchens are open only for takeaway and deliveries, government offices are working at 50 per cent capacity and all other non-essential business establishments are closed. Permitting liquor shops to remain open had raised eyebrows as they became kind of essential under the circumstances, but the reason the liquor trade assumes importance for the State is that excise collection on liquor is one of the major revenue earners for the State, and one that has been consistently increasing.
This rising trend in revenue collection was evident when the Excise Department revealed the figures for the financial year 2020-2021 which was hit hardest by the pandemic and the resultant lockdowns and losses in business across sectors. If most other businesses lost badly in the last financial year, neither the lockdowns nor the unlocks have apparently affected the liquor business. Despite the pandemic and lockdowns, the Excise Department revenue collection of Rs 509.11 crore for 2020-2021 was 4.39 per cent higher than for 2019-2020 which was Rs 487.69 crore. It was lower than the targetted amount, but that target had been set before the pandemic hit the State.
The most baffling question is where has this increased revenue come from? As per the Excise Department, the collection increased as liquor sales rose with the ‘influx of tourists and other events’. Yet, tourism in the last financial year was at a low. There are hotels and restaurants that had closed during the lockdown and have still not opened. Besides, not a single charter flight landed in the State and several months of the financial year had gone by before the government opened up for tourism. After that it was several weeks before tourism in Goa really picked up. It was only from December onwards – the New Year in particular – that domestic tourist footfalls began to rise.
If one looks at the figures given by Excise Department, the collection rose from November 2020 onwards. Yes, January, February and March 2021 saw a large number of tourists in the State, and these were months during which the excise collection also rose appreciably. The highest collection was in March 2021, also the month when the traders renew their licences and pay the fees. But, could just three months of tourism have led to such a major increase in excise collection that could offset the losses of April 2020 to October 2020?
The other reason ascribed to the rise in excise collection is events. Local drinking patterns are aligned to the village celebrations and wedding or other parties. Under the government restrictions, all these were cancelled or there were very low key celebrations held that led to the decreased consumption of liquor. The only major event held in Goa was the International Film Festival of India that was again a modest event.
This raises the possibility of liquor smuggling. In December last year the Goa Excise Department foiled a smuggling bid when it seized a vehicle with 66 cases of liquor being transported to Karnataka. This was one case, how many other vehicles cross the border undetected? In March, the Maharashtra Excise Department seized 1152 bottles of Indian Made Foreign Liquor in Aurangabad that were being transported in a van that had a false bottom. The bottles were meant for sale only in Goa and had been reportedly purchased in Goa and a lesser price and then smuggled across the border where they would be sold at a higher rate. While Goa may cheer the rise in excise collection, it has to also stop the smuggling of liquor.