Consumers in the state may soon be spoilt for choice with a range of niche liquors manufactured from fruits and crops like cashew, apples, jamun, mango, berries and mohua flowers hitting the shelves. The state government is working on a policy to allow the use of traditional crops for distilling liquor.
“We are planning to allow the distillation of indigenous liquor using cashew fruits, mohua flowers and other traditional crops. This will be a separate category of liquor and will entail a lower license fee and comparatively liberal excise duty regime if these distilleries do not blend other liquor in these products,” a senior state government official said.
While promoting agro-based industries and boosting the local economy by channelising investments and creating alternate avenues for farmers to sell their products, this will also make fruit-based and crop-based liquor available for tipplers, as against the conventional molasses-distilled one.
At present, Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) is charged excise duty at 300% of manufacturing cost or ₹350 per proof litre, whichever is higher. This indigenous liquor will be taxed at a lower, concessional rate to promote investment in the setup of distilleries and ensure that the end products are cheaper.
Valsa Nair Singh, principal secretary, state excise, confirmed that the policy was under consideration. It will be placed before the state cabinet for its approval, she added.
This is part of the state’s larger policy to allow the use of fruits, flowers and stems for manufacturing alcohol.
In 2019, the state government had decided to charge a nominal excise duty of ₹1 per bulk litre as a duty on fruit and mead (honey) wines. Earlier, there was no such tax holiday for these fruit-based dessert wines, which were charged duty at 100% of manufacturing cost, plus goods and services tax (GST), which ensured that they were costly compared to grape-based wines, which have been exempted from paying excise duty till 2021-end. In 2018, the state government had extended the definition of wine to cover those wines made from fruit, flowers, stems and honey.
In May, the state government had removed mohua (mhowra) flowers from the purview of the Maharashtra Prohibition Act, 1949. This deregulation on the collection, purchase, sale, and transport of these flowers, which are fermented by tribals in parts of Vidarbha to brew country liquor, meant that like earlier, no permits were needed to be sought for the purpose.
Shekhar Nikam, Nationalist Congress Party, Member of Legislative Assembly from Chiplun, who has a demonstration unit manufacturing fruit-based wines, said fruits grown locally like jackfruit, mango, jamun, and berries, could be used for producing liquor. “Once the government lays down its policy and allows the distillation of such liquor, feni can be distilled from cashew fruit grown in the Konkan, much of which goes waste,” he explained.
In 2020-21, around 32 crore litres of country liquor (CL) was sold in Maharashtra, followed by beer (30 crore litres), IMFL (20 crore litres) and wine (70 lakh litres).
The state excise department has a revenue collection target of ₹19,500 crore for the present financial year. In 2020-21, the actual collections were at ₹15,089 crore due to the Covid-19 lockdown, which saw liquor retailers down their shutters, and economic distress. IMFL sales contribute to around ₹8,500 crore in revenues, followed by ₹4,000 crore for CL, and ₹2,200 crore for beer.