DAYS after Punjab excise officials wrote to the government to sell liquor by setting up a corporation, Cabinet Minister Harpal Singh Cheema Thursday said that the state’s excise collection crossed Rs 4,000 crore-mark within the initial six months of a financial year for the first time ever.

Addressing media at Punjab Bhawan, Cheema, the Excise and Taxation minister said, state has recorded total excise revenue collection of Rs 4,280 crore in the first six months of the current fiscal, which is an increase of 37.62 per cent over last year’s figure of Rs 3,110 crore for the corresponding period (April 1 to October 12).

Slamming the previous state governments for not making adequate changes in the excise policy “due to their collusion with the liquor mafia”, the Finance Minister alleged that these governments facilitated the liquor mafia in the loot of more than Rs 22,500 crore from the state exchequer “if we assume only 7 per cent increase in excise collection every year for the last 15 years against the present growth of more than 37 per cent”.

Cheema said that the intentions of the government led by Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann were clear from the fact that it has set a target of Rs 9,000 crore excise collection while the previous government’s target was only Rs 6,200 crore.

Dedicating the “healthy growth of 37 per cent” to the new excise policy, Cheema said it has ushered a paradigm shift in the liquor trade in Punjab. “The main twin objectives of the Excise Policy are maximization of revenue and providing affordable quality liquor to citizens,” he said.

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Cheema alleged that the liquor mafia lobby was trying to “harass our officers through the union government” to break the excise policy. He said that the Bhagwant Mann-led regime was delivering a transparent administration and firmly stands with its officers in thwarting the “pressure mounting tactics being used by the Centre through its various agencies”.

He said that opposition parties in state were also questioning the Punjab government’s excise policy allegedly under the pressure of the liquor mafia. He challenged them to answer why there was no adequate increase in excise collection during their governments.

Notably, earlier this year, SAD had alleged AAP government in Punjab framed the “tailor-made” excise policy in line with the one in Delhi which has been found “illegal” and is under the CBI scanner. The Congress had also sought a probe by the CBI into the state’s excise policy, alleging that it was “tailor made” to select a few contractors.

Cheema said that the actual potential of liquor trade had been assessed by allotting the retail groups through a free, fair and transparent manner of e-tendering. Detailing the initiatives taken to ensure the availability of liquor at most competitive price in the state, Cheema said that the duty regime has been further liberalized and minimum retail sale prices of Punjab Medium Liquor (PML), IMFL, IFL, and beer have been factored in the new excise policy.

He said the “policy also strives to keep a stringent check over smuggling of liquor from the neighbouring states through extensive enforcement and by incorporating new technological measures”.

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