Amid protests in the tribal society, the West Bengal excise department has decided to scrap plans to launch a brand of country liquor, called ‘Jhumur’. The department recently issued an order saying that the brand would not be introduced in the market.
Recently, the department had decided to launch the product, to be sold at Rs 20 a pouch/pack. Sources said the main objective was to attract more people to country liquor, which will on one hand increase the excise revenue of the state government and on the other, poor people will consume it more rather than turning to illegal liquor or hooch.
Excise revenue is one of the main revenue earning sectors in the state. The state government rakes in around Rs 12,000 crore a year from liquor sales. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown period, liquor sales decreased, bringing down revenue. To make up for the loss, the state government increased excise duty around 30 per cent on foreign liquor to increase the revenue.
However the target was still not met. Recently, the state government decided to decrease excise duty on foreign liquor and also decided to focus on earning more revenue from country liquor.
The state government thus introduced country liquor in pouch packs, named not only as ‘Jhumur’, but also as ‘Bajigar’, ‘Dilruba’, ‘Globus Mahua’, ‘Birat’ and ‘Bulbul’, among others.
However, the ‘Jhumur’ brand triggered a controversy , evoking sharp reactions from the tribal society as well as in political circles. Leader of opposition Suvendu Adhikari recently tweeted, “WB Govt is so preoccupied to capture the country liquor market, that it has ignored the sentiments of the people of Jangalmahal before branding a segment of the spirit as “Jhumur”. This has offended the inhabitants of the region as their rich culture is being maligned by the Govt.”
He also wrote, “Is @egiye bangla ignorant about the fact, that Jhumur occupies a large space in the culture & heritage of the Junglemahal region & beyond, or they simply don’t care about the sentiments of people when its about revenue?”
Many artistes and organisations of the tribal community also opposed the brand name. They pointed out that in Junglemahal area, a large community of tribals used to sing a traditional song, ‘Jhumur’.
A senior official with the excise department said, “We do not want any controversy. This brand name is not at all related to the Jhumur culture. We have decided to stop this particular brand.”
Mriganka Hansda, a veteran santhal artiste, said, “Jhumur is our culture and heritage It is unfortunate that the government decided to make a country liquor brand by the name of Jhumur. We welcome the government’s decision to drop the plan.”