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Badal for probe into Punjab liquor auctions
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 5
The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) President, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, today demanded probe by an independent agency into the controversial multi-crore auction of liquor vends in Punjab as the Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverages Companies (CIABC) has expressed its strongest reservations about “cartalisation and monopolisation” of liquor trade in Punjab and Haryana.

The Punjab unit of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), too, joined the demand for probe by an independent agency as liquor baron Ponty Chadha denied any “irregularities or favouritism” in grant of licenses to his company or his men.

Mr Badal said such “surreptitious auctions caused a loss of more than Rs 100 crore to the State exchequer and was an eye opening example of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s war against corruption”. He wanted the Election Commission to seek a report from the Chief Secretary of the state about “unfair auctions”.

Auctions were a smooth affair at Ropar today where the Ponty Chadha cartel had no interest. “We will be participating in the next phase of auctions to be held at Amritsar on Sunday,” said Mr Ponty Chadha holding that “such baseless allegations are levelled against him and other contractors before and during auctions every year”.

The CIABC has demanded scrapping of auctioning of liquor vends and suggested a uniform excise policy for northern Indian states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan for uniformity throughout the country.

A section of liquor vendors of the State have also raised serious objections to the manner in which auctions were held at Jalandhar yesterday.

The liquor contractors or licensees of Punjab, too, fired a detailed memoranda to the Governor seeking his intervention besides requesting him to summon the entire record pertaining to auctions carried in a hurried and haphazard manner at Jalandhar yesterday for the districts of Jalandhar, Nawanshahr and Hoshiarpur.

The liquor contractors held that even higher bids made by them were overlooked and all licenses were awarded to liquor baron Ponty Chadha and his men for a marginal revenue increase of less than 1 per cent.

“It will not only lead to elimination of smaller licensees but also deny consumers quality liquor. Besides, it will not help the state in any way as the increase in revenue too will be marginal,” says Mr Pramod Krishna, Secretary-General, CIABC.

Talking to The Tribune over the telephone, Mr Krishna held that the way the auctions for three districts of Jalandhar, Nawanshahr and Hoshiarpur were conducted in Jalandhar yesterday were “unfair” and against the spirit of providing level field to all players of the trade.

“We maintain that this policy is retrograde and confirms widespread rumours that the government intends to create even bigger monopolies.

“If the government talks of probity and transparency in its actions, why did it not allow the media into the hall where formality of auctions was gone through.

And in contravention of all democratic norms, about 450 entry slips were cornered by Ponty Chadha and his associates,” the CIABC said.

Mr Ponty Chadha feigned ignorance about the CIABC. “I have never come across this body or its members,” he remarked holding that its fears were baseless as the prices of liquor have to be “competitive and reasonable” and quality of liquor sold in Punjab was as good as anywhere else.

Mr Sanjeev Bhandari, an unsuccessful bidder at yesterday’s auction, alleged that the Punjab Government awarded the contract for entire Doab region to Mr Ponty Chadha in exchange for Rs 20 crore which has been contributed to promote the election prospects of the Congress party and is in utter violation of the Model Code of Conduct of the Election Commission. Mr Ponty Chadha, however, denied that he made any payment for the election fund of the Congress.

Mr Bhandari also referred to the guidelines issued by the Election Commission in 1996 that major auctions, including liquor auctions, should be postponed till completion of the election process.

And to make up for the gap period, the existing licenses should be extended till fresh auctions could take place. In the present case, even this Code of Conduct was not followed, he added.

The SAD and the BJP also sent telegrams to the Chief Electoral Officer of Punjab as well as the Chief Election Commissioner pointing towards “alleged illegalities and violations committed in the conduct of first phase of auctions yesterday.”


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