Dismissing accusations about the liquor mafia having taken control of the trade in Jammu and Kashmir after the introduction of e-auction, a top excise official said 100 per cent of the liquor licences for wine shops have been issued to domiciles of the Union Territory with revenue realisation touching an all-time high of 217 crore this year.
Excise Commissioner Pankaj Kumar Sharma also defended availability of beer and other ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages at departmental stores in urban areas, saying “the step is part of a policy initiative to encourage transition from high content to low content harmless alcohol.”
The official said this year, the J&K excise policy has been issued with major emphasis on facilitating the opening of vends at tourist destinations so that the holidaymakers do not face any difficulty in having access to booze.
“We have issued a total of 655 licences under J&K excise policy and J&K liquor license and sales rules this year, out of which 279 have been issued under J&K EL2, popularly known as wine shops and 250 to bars with restaurants, hotels, banquets and clubs, and at institutions wherever alcohol is used for experimental, scientific purpose or for industrial purpose,” Sharma said.
After the introduction of e-bidding and e-auction last year, he said 279 liquor vends were e-auctioned and the highest bidders were given the licences, generating a revenue of Rs 217 crore to the government exchequer against Rs 123 crore the previous year.
“The revenue generated is huge compared to the period before the introduction of the e-auction when only Rs 6 to 7 crore used to be realised on account of the annual renewal fee of the (wine shop) licences,” he pointed out.
Over 200 traditional wine shopkeepers of Jammu have reportedly lost their business in the e-auction and have been alleging that the trade has been taken over by the “liquor mafia” from outside Jammu and Kashmir through proxy bidders.
However, Sharma said there is no scope for any wrongdoing and the e-auction was done in a transparent manner as the e-auction of vends and the auction portal is being governed by J&K Bank as a third party nodal agency.
“We can assure that 100 per cent licences have been issued to the domiciles of J&K and there is no person from outside who is holding a licence of wine shops,” he said.
He further said the overall revenue collection has registered a substantial increase over the past few years.
“Earlier, the annual target which we used to achieve in excise was Rs 1,200 to Rs 1,300 crore. In 2021-22, we achieved a revenue of Rs 1,773 crore, while we are expecting a revenue of Rs 1,900 crore by the end of the current financial year,” the commissioner said, adding over Rs 919 crore has been realised this year till September.
On criticism of the Jammu and Kashmir administration for authorising departmental stores to sell beer and other ready-to-drink beverages in urban areas, Sharma said the excise policy has the objective to bring a transition among booze drinkers from high content alcohol to low content harmless drinks.
“The low content alcohol beverage is beer (5 per cent by volume) and we want to promote such types of drinks because it is in the interest of public health to shift from high alcohol content (65-75 per cent alcohol by volume) to low alcohol content,” he said, adding 90 lakh bottles of beer were sold last year, while 82 lakh beer bottles were sold this year till September.
He said the climate and weather conditions in Jammu and Kashmir make it unique for producing India’s best beer which is sent to different parts of the country and abroad as well. Beer worth more than Rs 700 crore is exported from the Union Territory.
The commissioner said J&K Special Whisky continues to register the highest sale with over 1.06 crore bottles sold by September this year, followed by over 53 lakh bottles of Indian made foreign liquor (IMFL).
Asked whether the department plans to open more liquor vends at tourist destinations amid a record footfall of 1.62 crore visitors this year, he said, “We have to facilitate the tourist destinations… to ensure that there are no complaints of non-availability of liquor from the visitors.”
“Jammu and Kashmir is home to the world class tourist destinations like Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonamarg and Patnitop…As far as tourist destinations are concerned, we are little liberal and we are ready to facilitate those who want liquor licences at such destinations,” he said.