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Part I
Want liquor at 7 am? Hit the highway
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 27
Buying liquor at 7 in the morning may not be a problem in Punjab at any point on a state or a national highway, but getting assistance to get flat tyre of car or scooter fixed at that hour is almost impossible.

If travelling on national or state highways, one does not have to cover more than 5 km to reach well-furnished liquor shop with eye -catching hoardings .

Liquor shops remain open for 16 hours seven days a week while shops selling medicines or daily-use items remain open for maximum of 12 hours a day.

Fog in summer enveloped parts of Punjab last Sunday. A Tribune team ran into an early morning shopper of Indian-made foreign liquor at the Chandigarh-Punjab barrier.

Before the shop salesman could finish his morning chores before opening the shop , a customer insisted on buying a couple of bottles of popular mid-range brand of Indian-made foreign liquor whisky in time for an inter-state bus that touches the barrier five minutes before 7am .

The salesman obliged him and the customer boarded the bus with bottles in his carry bag.

It is not unusual for people travelling to Punjab and Haryana from Chandigarh to buy liquor from shops at the inter-state border. These shops offer special concessions to lure commuters. That may not be the reason for the Excise Departments, not only in Punjab and Chandigarh, but also in other states officially to permit 16 working hours a day seven days a week to sell liquor.

Liquor shops in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh, especially those on the state and national highways, open before having returned from places of worship after morning prayers or even students have gone to institutes.

Intriguingly, liquor shops are exempted not only from the provisions of the Shops and Commercial Establishments Act, the Package Commodities Act, but also are covered by special laws where no police officer lower than Deputy Superintendent can take cognisance of any violation of law.

Of late, the Excise Departments in the region has turned a blind eye to the blatant misuse of excise policies that forbids vendors, liquor companies, including distilleries, breweries or bottling plants from publicising their products.

The highest density of hoardings on any national or state highway is of the liquor products. At one stage, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had come out strongly against Punjab and Haryana governments and the Chandigarh Administration for allowing big hoardings on highways that besides being distracting drivers were cause of fatal accidents.

Directions from courts, including the Punjab and Haryana High Court, on liquor sale on highways notwithstanding, the state governments in this part of the country appear to be locked in severe competition in granting concessions and relaxations in their excise laws to the powerful liquor lobbies.

The only point that gets all proposals of the Excise Department through is revenue. Incidentally, liquor remains the single largest commodity to earn the state major chunk of revenue. Subsidies to farm sector or the industrial units or tax concessions to general public may have been witnessing opposition at meetings of the Councils of Ministers, but not the excise proposals. It is excise revenue that sustains the state finances.

Because of the revenue it generates, almost every other government department shuts its eyes to the harm liquor trade brings with it.

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