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Dry Delhi? Kejriwal seems to have some aces up his sleeve & Nitish should learn from him

Charu Kartikeya | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:48 IST

Amidst a rising clamour against liquor addiction in many parts of the country, the two new provisions of Delhi's excise policy announced yesterday are an interesting departure.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in the national capital announced on Wednesday that no new liquor shops will be opened in the city this year.

Further, if the residents of a particular area are unhappy with the presence of liquor shops in the vicinity, they can get the government to shift those shops elsewhere.

Interestingly, this announcement has come on the back of reports that 58 new liquor shops were opened in Delhi under the watch of the AAP government, in the last one year.

Swaraj Abhiyaan (SA), the outfit headed by former AAP leaders Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, had made this revelation, based on an RTI query.

SA members alleged that the AAP government had reneged on its electoral promise of actively working to reduce alcohol consumption and distribution in Delhi. SA members had also launched protests in various areas of Delhi against this.

Quite understandably, they are calling this revision of policy by the Arvind Kejriwal-led government a result of their pressure.

SA members, especially Bhushan, were also scathing in their attack on Kejriwal and AAP.

Yadav also sought to know from Kejriwal whether the forthcoming assembly polls in Punjab had necessitated this "sudden change in mind".

The Punjab polls could be an important factor behind this decision as the main electoral plank in the poll-bound state is the promise of delivering a nasha-mukt Punjab (a Punjab free of all intoxicants).

However, over the last couple of years, Delhi has consistently had a constituency of activists protesting against liquor vends in residential areas.

The latest protests that had broken out with the help of SA were threatening to assimilate this constituency and create a large agitation against AAP. This is why Kejriwal decided to act swiftly and announce the new measures.

After Bihar, prohibition in Delhi?

This partial tightening of the liquor trade in Delhi has made some ponder if Kejriwal could slowly be inching towards prohibition, possibly motivated by his friend and counterpart in Bihar, Nitish Kumar.

After imposing a blanket booze-ban in Bihar, Kumar has been touring many other states in a bid to drum-up the prohibition campaign throughout the country.

He has studiously avoided Delhi and Punjab so far because it is Kejriwal's turf and he doesn't want to upset the latter, as of now.

But could he have silently nudged or inspired the AAP chief to tighten his liquor policy in Delhi? Indications are that the case, in fact, is far from it.

A careful look at the new excise policy will reveal that not all kinds of liquor outlets will witness a slowdown.

Delhi government's liquor licences are divided into three categories -

- L6 (government shops),

- L7 (private shops)

- L10 (shops in malls).

The no-new-shop announcement covers only L6 and L7 categories, while licences will continue to be given under L10 category.

This means, what is being curbed is only a liberal liquor policy, not liquor sale, per say. And what these new policies are actually doing is - smartly balancing of concerns of the protestors against liquor addiction and arguments against prohibition.

It is Kumar who, in fact, can take a cue from his friend in Delhi.

The 13 deaths in Bihar's Gopalganj, a hooch-tragedy by most indications, have come as a stark reminder to the Bihar CM of the perils of prohibition.

While the rich are free to either bribe to secure alcohol or simply travel elsewhere, the poor have only one resort to satisfy their urge - hooch.

The middle-way out?

Both policies, in this case, mean a defeat for the ban but it is the poor who pay dearly. What Delhi appears to be telling Bihar right now is that the best way-out is probably not to stop liquor trade entirely, but to ensure that liquor shops do not spring up on every corner like a mom-and-pop store.

Kejriwal also said in his press conference that in the past, he himself has been part of protests against liquor shops in residential areas, indicating another area of focus.

Liquor shops in or near residential colonies could also possibly be avoided, instead of banning them altogether.

Of course, it is a bit early to say whether this is actually AAP's stand. These are mere indications.

The Delhi government is yet to make the entire policy public and therefore one can not be sure if there are further surprises in store.

Reports had claimed recently that the government was all set to make the availability of liquor easier in the capital.

The government denied the claim but the real truth will be known only when the policy is made public.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

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First published: 19 August 2016, 5:54 IST
Charu Kartikeya @CharuKeya

Assistant Editor at Catch, Charu enjoys covering politics and uncovering politicians. Of nine years in journalism, he spent six happily covering Parliament and parliamentarians at Lok Sabha TV and the other three as news anchor at Doordarshan News. A Royal Enfield enthusiast, he dreams of having enough time to roar away towards Ladakh, but for the moment the only miles he's covering are the 20-km stretch between home and work.