PUNJAB CM RULES OUT EXTENSION FOR LIQUOR VEND CONTRACTS BEYOND MARCH 31
· ACCEPTS FINANCE DEPT’S PROPOSAL TO PROVIDE ADJUSTMENTS TO LICENSEES FOR LOSSES RESULTING FROM LOCKDOWN
· 3-MEMBER COMMITTEE TO ASSESS ACTUAL LOSSES FROM MARCH 23 TO MAY 6, GoM SET UP TO MULL ON SPECIAL COVID CESS ON LIQUOR
CHANDIGARH, MAY 13:While ruling out extension in the contract of liquor vends beyond March 31, 2020, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Wednesday announced that the state government would, in line with the Finance Department’s recommendation, provide adjustments to the licensees for losses incurred for the lockdown period, from March 23 to May 6, 2020.
The Chief Minister has constituted a three-member Committee of senior officers to assess the actual loss resulting from closure of liquor vends amid COVID-19. The committee comprises Principal Secretary Finance Anirudh Tiwari, Principal Secretary Power A. Venu Prasad, and Excise & Taxation Commissioner Vivek Pratap Singh.
The Chief Minister was on Monday authorised by the Council of Ministers to approve suitable changes in the State Excise Policy as warranted due to the pandemic and the resultant curfew/lockdown.
According to an official spokesperson, the Chief Minister has accepted the recommendation of the Excise Department, aligned to the advice of the Finance Department, to maintain the period of contract of liquor vends till 31st March 2021. Captain Amarinder has also approved the Finance Department’s recommendation to provide proportionate adjustment of MGQ for the losses incurred in the 9 days of lockdown in March. Further, in line with the Finance Department’s recommendation, the revenues, both license fee and MGR, for the period of loss from 1st April to 6th May 2020, may also be adjusted/ re-determined accordingly by the Excise Department.
It may be pointed out that licensees of 2019-20 could not complete the year as on 31st March 2020 as their vends were closed for 9 days due to the imposition of curfew and lockdown from 23rd March 2020 onwards. Further the liquor vends for the year 2020-21 which were due to open on 1st April 2020, in pursuance of the State Excise Policy 2020-21, could not be opened.
The Chief Minister has also set up a Group of Ministers (GOM) to consider the Finance Department’s proposal, along with adjustment if any, to be given to licensees in case of future lockdown/s (complete or partial during FY2020-21, and any other grievances and difficulties, as may be experienced or raised by the licensees.
The GoM, comprising the Finance Minister, the Education Minister and the Housing & Urban Development Minister, has also been mandated by the Chief Minister to consider the issue of levying a special Covid Cess on sale of liquor, as has been done by certain other states in the wake of losses incurred due to the prolonged lockdown.
On the issue of home delivery of liquor, Captain Amarinder has decided that the provisions of the existing Excise Policy would continue to be applicable, but, citing the Supreme Court’s observations in this regard, has left the option with the licensees. The Supreme Court, it may be recalled, had suggested home delivery/indirect sale of liquor, in its order in a Public Interest Litigation of 8th May 2020, to facilitate social distancing during the period of lockdown.
Noting that as a result of the lockdown, the Excise Department could not complete allotment of liquor vends for the year 2020-21, the Chief Minister directed the Department to take further action, including allotment of remaining vends, in accordance with the State Excise Policy 2020-21. Of a total of 756 groups, 500 were renewed as per Policy of 2019-20 and the remaining 256 groups were restructured into 186 groups, of which 89 groups were allotted as per the Policy of 2020-21. The remaining 97 groups are yet to be allotted.
It may be recalled that State’s Excise Policy for the year 2020-21 was approved by the Council of Ministers (CoM) on January 31, 2020. Thereafter, the Department had taken substantial action to implement the Policy. However, implementation was stopped due to the pandemic Covid-19 and resultant curfew and lockdown w.e.f. March 23, 2020, imposed first by the State Government on March 23 and thereafter by Union Ministry of Home Affairs on March 24, 2020 under the relevant provisions of CrPC and Disaster Management Act, 2005.
Pointing out that, post the lockdown, the State Government had time and again requested the Government of India to allow the Excise & Taxation Department to open liquor vends as it involved loss of State Excise revenue. It is only w.e.f. May 4, 2020 that Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) allowed opening of liquor vends as per the guidelines issued vide letter of May 1,2020.
Subsequent to these guidelines of the MHA, the Department examined their implementation in keeping with the State Excise Policy 2020-21. The Department also prepared a memorandum for the consideration of CoM, which was sent to the Finance Department for their advice and the same was received on May 11, 2020. The matter was thereafter considered in the CoM on May 11, 2020, wherein the Chief Minister was authorized to approve suitable changes in the State Excise Policy as warranted due to the pandemic Covid-19 and resultant curfew and lockdown.