Punjab villages say no to booze, will move HC

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Old 09-Feb-2011
Punjab villages say no to booze, will move HC

Sangrur/Patiala February 9:

Hundreds of villages in Punjab's Sangrur and Patiala districts are bracing for a legal battle with the state's excise department over proliferating booze vends that bring the exchequer mighty moolah.

The panchayats in the area, where alcoholism touches nearly 60% of the male population, don't want any liquor vends but excise babus won't heed their pleas. The panchayats now plan to go to court. As many as 45 panchayats in Sangrur and 71 from others districts, including Patiala, had petitioned the state excise commissioner not to open vends in their villages after two NGOs Scientific Awareness Forum and People For Transparency (PFT) started efforts to contain alcohol addiction.

Under Section 40 of the Punjab Panchayati Raj Act, panchayats have the power to close down liquor shops in their village by adopting a resolution. However, many sarpanches say the excise department fell back on an untenable reason to reject their plea. They were told that those villages, from where police have seized liquor in the last two years, cannot ask for shutting down liquor shops.

Sarpanch of Kunra village in Patiala, Gurjant Singh, and Harchandpura headman Sukhwinder Singh said state excise commissioner A Venu Prasad cited two liquor-related cases that had nothing to do with their villages to reject their resolutions. They said they would approach the Punjab and Haryana high court if the department remains adamant. Many sarpanches and panchayat members, who were called to Patiala's state excise office by authorities, alleged the department was pressuring them to withdraw the resolutions against liquor shops as it would lead to financial losses.

Punjab earned Rs 2,000 crore from liquor taxes last year, a 20% rise from the 2009 earning. "The liquor mafia is getting false FIRs under the Excise Act registered against innocent villagers, so that the resolution could be circumvented. All seven FIRs registered this year in our village were on complaints by employees of a liquor contractor," said Patiala's Badrukhan panchayat member Pritam Singh.

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