In Meghalaya’s capital Shillong, social drinking is part of the Khasi-Jaintia indigenous culture. But on 1 April this year, 97 wine stores and bars were shut down by the District Administration in the city. This follows the failure of the wine store dealers to comply with the amended Rule 183 of the Meghalaya Excise Act of September 2015 which prohibits issuing of licenses to wine stores within 200 meters from places of worship, educational institutions and hospitals.
It also prohibits wine stores within 100 meters from national or state highways. The wine store owners were given six months to comply with the amended Act and to relocate.
Absurdity of the New Order
Shillong is 10 km in radius and wine store owners are told that the 200-metre distance spans in all directions of the above-named institutions. This is absurd as it will be impossible for any wine store to operate anywhere in Shillong, if rules were to be followed. In Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh the Excise Act stipulates a 50-metre distance only and the states have much bigger cities.
Besides, many wine stores had opened as early as 1941, long before the schools, religious places and hospitals were built. So the wine store owners are going by the logic of “what came first.”
The Meghalaya Wine Store Dealers’ Association approached the High Court seeking a stay on the amended Excise Rule but the Court upheld the Government notification.
Impact of Amended Excise Act
- Out of 600 wine stores, only 69 are open throughout the state.
- Total size of the industry in Meghalaya is Rs 1200 crore per annum.
- The state government receives Rs 400 crore revenue in excise duty and VAT from liquor business.
- About 3200 families have been affected by the closure of wine shops.
State Government’s Social Agenda
The State Government officials defended the notification saying it was only following a Supreme Court advisory banning the sale of liquor within 50 metres of the national highways – after the recommendations from the apex court appointed Committee on road safety. The apex court, however, has not issued any directive about the distance from educational institutions, religious places and hospitals.
So one wonders what is driving the agenda of the government. If this is a social agenda, then can the Government control the boot-legging which is now a flourishing trade?
The Supreme Court had stated that the main stake holders – the wine store owners – should be consulted, but the State Government did not consult them before coming out with the notification in 2015.
CM Justifies Order on Wine Stores
The wine store dealers even appealed to the government to not implement the amended notification to existing store, and only expect new stores to adhere to it, but the Government has been adamant.
State Chief Minister, Mukul Sangma, however, stuck by the Government’s stand, saying that in the long run, there is a benefit because areas beyond the immediate city limits also need to grow and one way of letting that happen is by relocating wine stores so that other commercial activities also follow.
A wine store located along the highway causes traffic jams because drivers park their vehicles on the road to buy their booze without bothering about fellow drivers.
As of now, Shillongites are suffering from parched throats while those ten wine stores that are open are making a killing.
(The writer is the Editor of The Shillong Times and former member of NSAB)