BENGALURU: Social activists and stakeholders have raised the alarm over growing violations of rules by liquor outlets, including allowing students under 18 years to buy alcohol and outlets staying open beyond business hours. This comes in the wake of government revenue decreasing from sales of liquor after it hiked additional excise duty (AED).
The Associated Managements of Primary and Secondary Schools in Karnataka (AMPSSK) has written to both the home and excise departments, seeking to draw officials’ attention to the growing menace of underage drinking. They have urged the departments to take steps to curb what they call the burgeoning threat.
Opposition parties had already claimed that with the government eager to boost its revenue to fund its election guarantees, authorities are going soft on owners of liquor outlets who stay open for business beyond 1.30pm in violation of business hour norms, and illegal outlets mushrooming across the state. They claim excise officials are surreptitiously encouraging these violations to ramp up revenues.
On the other hand, organisations of liquor traders complain excise officials have been pressuring them to lift more stock than they can sell so that officials can meet revenue targets.
D Shashi Kumar, general secretary, AMPSSK, a signatory to letters to home minister G Parameswara and excise minister RB Thimmapur, said: “Authorities are deliberately looking the other way as pubs and bars are serving liquor to students who are way below the permissible age limit for drinking.
Students are even buying liquor from stores as well. We always had reports of children buying liquor but while such reports were few and far between before they are on the rise now, especially after the government hiked AED. Even parents and teachers are alarmed as they are unable to control their wards.”
Former chief minister and senior BJP functionary Basavaraj Bommai, at a press con ference when the Congress government completed 100 days in office, had alleged illegal bars and pubs were thriving in the state.
“We have seen many outlets staying open for business well past midnight,” said N Ravikumar, BJP general secretary. “Owners told us that they were bribing authorities. We didn’t expect the government to be so desperate to mobilise resources that it is exerting pressure on traders to push up liquor sales.”
HG Honnagir Gowda, president, Karnataka Wine Merchants Association, said while a wine shop on average sells 20 boxes of Indian-made liquor [IML], officials are forcing them to lift more than 30 boxes. “Also, sales of illegal liquor, such as duplicate brands, are on the rise,” said B Govindraj Hegde, general secretary, Federation of Wine Mer chants Association.
Chief minister Siddaramaiah, in mid-July, had hiked AED on IML by 20% and beer from 175% to 185% in a bid to boost revenue, but liquor sales fell 4% in August.
When contacted, T Nagarajappa, additional excise commissioner, admitted: “We have received complaints of norms being violated. We will take steps to curb it.” He said the excise department will send out a circular asking liquor outlet owners to strictly adhere to norms.