20 September 2010
By Nikhil Deshmukh
The anti–liquor movement is finding no takers in the urban areas of the state, though a few villages in Satara and Kolhapur districts have successfully exercised the provision of an excise department act to shut some liquor shops.
The easy availability of country liquor or the Indian Made Foreign Liquor at the rural level had caused social unrest in villages in the last decade. In some areas, agitation against liquor shops have turned violent, creating law and order problems.
It has prompted social activist to initiate anti–liquor movement at the village level, which was supported by women who are generally the victims of liquorrelated social problems.
According to a state government decision in June 2003, shops selling liquor in villages can be closed if 50 per cent of the women population vote for its closure. According to activists, such democratic ways of protest show the unity of the society and, at the same time, give youngsters a lesson in democracy.
In 2008, the government made the Bombay Prohibition (closure of licence on resolution by gram sabha or representation by voters in the ward of municipal council/ corporation) order, 2008 effective in urban areas also.
As per the order, at least 25 per cent women voters in a ward should submit their demand of banning liquor distribution in any form (shop, hotel, beer bar) to the concerned authority. After verifying the facts, the authority, with an approval from the district collector, conducts an election, where the people are asked to cast their vote. If more than 50 per cent vote against liquor distribution, the licence of the shop or enterprise is cancelled by the excise department.
Tanaji Salunkhe, deputy commissioner of the state excise department, told TOI: "The notification has asked the concerned authorities to complete the entire procedure within three months. The government wants to have a fair chance to both parties. The excise inspector is also allowed to attend the elections as a third–party observer."
Though the government has extended the order to the ward level for the benefit of urban population, in the last two years, no ward in the state has succeeded in exercising it, Salunkhe said.
Activist Narendra Dabholkar said, "Compared to villages, municipal wards are not homogeneous. So it becomes difficult to convince all the voters to cast their vote against liquor distribution. Urban population also prefers to keep away from politicians, hence ward–level ban on liquor is almost impossible."
Dabholkar has been instrumental in implementing the liquor ban in many villages in Satara district. At least 25 shops and hotels have been closed down in the district, due to the efforts of Dabholkar and his colleagues.
Salunkhe said, "In preventing liquor distribution, Satara district has topped in the state, followed by Kolhapur district where 12 shops were shut."
The revenue through liquor business in the state was Rs 5,060 crore in 2009–10. The revenue has been increasing by at least Rs 500 crore annually, Salunkhe added.