Punjab govt to shut more than 450 liquor shops

To recall unutilised funds of SAD-BJP govt
Report by: 
Agencies
Chandigarh
18 Mar 2017

In-line with its poll promise to discourage alcohol consumption in Punjab, the Amarinder Singh government today decided to close over 450 liquor shops in the state. The government under its new excise policy for 2017-18 also announced to slash the liquor quota and ban sale of alcohol within 500 meters of national and state highways. There are 6,384 liquor vends in the state, it will be reduced to 5,900, a spokesman with the Chief Minister's Office said. The decision was taken in the maiden cabinet meeting of the Chief Minister Amarinder Singh-led Punjab government here, he said. In its poll manifesto, the Congress had announced, that "to discourage liquor consumption in Punjab and substantially reduce its sale in five years, it will close five per cent of liquor vends each year."  The new state government also announced to reduce liquor quota by up to 20 per cent, the spokesman said. The quota of country liquor has been reduced by 14 per cent from 10.10 crore proof litres to 8.70 crore proof litres and the quota of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) has been reduced by 20 per cent from 4.73 crore proof litres to 3.80 crore proof litres, he said. A State Excise and Taxation Department official said the liquor quota in Punjab had reached its saturation point and it was leading to bootlegging incidents. The spokesman said in compliance with the Supreme Court order, no liquor vend would be allowed to operate within 500 metres of national and state highways. The government has also abolished the "controversial" wholesale licence for the L-1A category. This will allow L-1 licensees to directly purchase their quota from the distilleries, bottling plants and manufacturing companies, he said. The L-1 licence would be granted to retail L-2 licensees in the districts concerned, the spokesman said. The previous SAD-BJP government had came under sharp criticism last year after the wholesale licence for L-1A category was introduced. Several people engaged in the liquor trade alleged it was benefiting certain groups in this category. It was also alleged that wholesale licence L-1A category was introduced to monopolise the liquor trade in the state. Besides , announcement of ban on liquor shops,  the new Congress government under Chief Minister Amarinder Singh today started work on the state's development agenda at its first cabinet meeting, taking several key decisions. The first Cabinet meet of the new government adopted the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee manifesto as its work programme for the next five years, and took more than 100 important decisions aimed at fulfilling one-third of the electoral promises in the first phase, an official spokesperson said. To meet some of the expenses involved in taking the work programme forward, the cabinet decided to recall the unutilised funds, amounting to thousands of crores of rupees, which had been granted by the previous SAD-BJP regime to various government departments in the run-up to the polls, he said. The key decisions taken by the cabinet, attended by all the nine ministers of the newly-constituted government, include a major crackdown on the drug mafia and corruption, abolition of Inspector Raj and VIP culture, time-bound waiver of farm loans, constitution of various high-level committees to bring agriculture and industry on track, reforms in education and health, extension of various benefits to Dalits and other backwards and employment generation. To ensure rule of law and speedy justice, a series of new legislations, as proposed in the manifesto, will be enacted at the earliest. This includes the vital Confiscation of Drug Dealers' Property Act. The concerned departments would prepare the necessary legislation for immediate enactment through an ordinance. Thanking the people of Punjab for their emphatic mandate to the Congress in the recent assembly polls, the cabinet resolved that the administrative secretaries would be entrusted with the task of time-bound implementation of every single commitment in the manifesto relating to their respective departments. It was also resolved that the government would pursue all legal and administrative measures on the SYL canal issue to protect the state's water. During the meeting, which lasted over three hours, Amarinder directed his ministerial colleagues and the various departments of the government to get down to the task of implementing the manifesto promises in all earnestness, taking all necessary measures to ensure that there is no delay in taking the reforms and development process to the people. Abolition of District Transport Officers (DTOs), as well as elimination of the "controversial halqa in-charge system" of the previous Akali government, are among other important decisions taken by the cabinet as part of the anti-corruption agenda of the government. "Immediate steps will be taken to abolish the VIP culture in the state in line with the promises made by the Congress in its manifesto," he said. It was also decided to establish Employment Bureaus, manned by specialist and professionals, in all districts to tackle unemployment by carrying out surveys of both educated and the uneducated unemployed in the state and preparing annual district employment plans with clear targets. Repeal of the Punjab Lokpal Act, revisiting of the citizens' services delivery process by the Department of Governance Reforms, and establishment of Unified Service Delivery Centres are some of the major decisions taken by the cabinet with the aim of uplifting the quality of public service in the state. The cabinet decided that all subsidies, pensions, and other pro-poor schemes such as 'Ashirwad' and 'Atta Dal' would be better targeted towards genuine beneficiaries through Direct Benefit Transfers, wherever possible. The Department of Personnel would be directed to submit a complete proposal to regularise all ad hoc and contractual employees recruited through transparent systems and procedures, said the spokesperson, adding the cabinet also decided to ban recruitment of contractual staff against the regular sanctioned posts in various government departments. Another important cabinet decision relates to reforms and upgradation of educational institutions, with free connectivity to be provided in all government schools and colleges, for which the government will tie up with telecom companies to provide free Wi-Fi service to such institutions. Students in government schools will be given free transportation facility and textbooks. At least one degree college will be established in each sub-division of the state.(PTI)