BJP's sting brings Uttarakhand excise policy in limelight again
- It takes the control of foreign liquor trade out of private hands and gives it to public-sector firms
- Mandi Parishad is the main stockist, while Garhwal and Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigams are distributors
- BJP has conducted a sting operation and accused CM Harish Rawat and his aides of making money
- Popular brands have disappeared from stores and have been replaced by unknown brands
- This hints at the presence of a liquor mafia
Right from the day the Uttarakhand government decided to implemented its amended excise policy on the trade of foreign liquor (FL-2), almost three months back, there were doubts that something fishy was going on.
A sting operation, carried out by the BJP and distributed to the media in Delhi on 22 July, has once again put this controversial policy under the spotlight.
Public vs private
On paper, the policy had all kinds of state-friendly ingredients - like creating a role for state government-owned corporations like Mandi Parishad, Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) and Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) - in controlling the liquor business, ending the monopoly of individual players.
But many popular brands have disappeared from the market. Large quantities of inferior brands are in circulation, which hints to the active participation of an invisible force or mafia in the business.
Many stories are circulating regarding the zeal shown by the Uttarakhand government in hastily implementing the amended liquor policy. The most common is: when the deal with a liquor baron failed to materialise, a second plan was worked out.
Big brands have disappeared and of inferior brands are have flooded the market, which indicates a mafia hand
Under FL-2, now the Mandi Parishad is the main stockist, with two sub distributors - one each in the Garhwal and Kumaon regions. With this sarkari system coming into operation, now the state government corporations decide which brand to pump into the market. This could well be a backdoor entry process devised to favour some companies/individuals.
The same process of putting control in the hands of government agencies had been in place eight years ago, and flopped badly.
GMVN and KMVN have failed to clear old payments to distilling companies. When the new policy came into force, many companies decided not to supply their products to defaulters like them.
Commenting on the sting, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat said: "The state government has given the distribution of foreign liquor to the government-owned Mandi Parishad. We'll get a copy of the CD, and we will conduct a forensic investigation."
Even on 23 July, the CM's media adviser, Surinder Kumar, hosted a press conference in Dehradun and charged the BJP for playing 'poor' politics. He said: "The allegation of BJP that the Uttarakhand government amended the policy to favour private players is baseless. The change was done to provide business to public-sector companies."
The BJP has constantly raised the FL-2 issue and, after the sting operation, it is set to keep the political temperature high in this part of the world.
In his one-and-a-half year term as CM, Rawat has failed to take any strong action against people found guilty in investigations.
Take the case of the Kedarnath relief fund distribution scam. Even after the Rudraprayag district administration found that many businessmen took fake claims for damages, the government took a soft stand.
After claiming it would take action against the culprits, the government conducted a Cabinet meeting and exempted all the accused traders - who took multiple claims, including some in the name of dead persons.
Illegal sand mining is also happening on a mass scale in Uttarakhand and the government is more or less completing a mere formality by seizing the occasional truck or trolley.
Rawat replaced Vijay Bahuguna as Chief Minister on 1 February last year and the public was hopeful that the new CM will provide a solution to many grave problems prevailing in the hills.
But, rather than fixing the problems of the state, Rawat has devoted more time to 'fixing' his rivals in the Congress. He has completely shattered the Vijay Bahuguna camp, to maintain the supremacy of his group in Uttarakhand.
The same approach is required to make Uttarakhand recover from many crises.