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Maharashtra wants to cut dry days but's unsure about drinking permit

These drinking permits are a prohibition era legacy, which mandates that those consuming liquor must hold permits issued for the purpose

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Maharashtra wants to cut dry days but's unsure about drinking permit
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Maharashtra could remain the only state that shall continue to have an archaic rule mandating those drinking liquor must hold a permit issued ironically on 'health grounds'. Though the state government is easing restrictions on the highly-regulated liquor sector, sources say any amendments to the rule may run afoul of the pro-prohibition lobby. A state government-appointed committee has suggested far-ranging reforms like reducing statutory dry days, delegating powers and time-bound permissions for ease of doing business.

These drinking permits are a prohibition era legacy, which mandates that those consuming liquor must hold permits issued for the purpose. Maharashtra has stringent excise laws where consumption, possession or transport of liquor without a permit issued on "health grounds" is an offence, punishable with a fine or a jail term depending on its severity.

State Excise Minister Chandrashekhar Bavankule admitted that consumption permit system does not exist anywhere else in India and there were demands for scrapping it. He added that the government would appoint a group to study this, as otherwise there would be criticism. "There are complaints that this permit causes severe problems," said Bavankule.

State excise officials admit that while the rule, making the permit issued to drinkers for "preservation or maintenance" of health, mandatory is difficult to enforce, it also leads to harassment of drinkers by police and state excise personnel, especially of lower ranks.

"There are many ironies here. Despite the availability of liquor, Maharashtra is a prohibition state where the Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949, is in force," an official explained. He added that between October 2, 2016 and March 31, 2019, the department approved 17,204 applications for the consumption and possession permit, but just 66 applications were rejected during the period.

"There are instances where permit holders in tourist places stock beer and clandestinely sell it at a higher price. However, though the permit system is misused, scrapping it outright will leave the ground open for bootleggers and ensure those in the system also make a quick buck," the official claimed.

The department has already launched a system to give out these permits online. It has asked all district superintendents to ensure applicants are issued permits to consume liquor within 24 hours after applying for them online.

The excise department has been seeking since around 2007 that the permit system is scrapped by amending the Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949, though the move is opposed by pro-prohibition activists. Maharashtra follows a policy of discouraging liquor consumption through a policy of high prices and low sales.

Maharashtra saw prohibition being imposed from 1949 till the 1960s, which led to the underworld get into bootlegging in parts of Mumbai and the state. During this period, wine shops released fixed units of the brew to permit holders on health grounds. However, restrictions on consumption of liquor were gradually eased over the years.

BOOZE AT A COST

  • Rs 300 – Cost of annual permit card
     
  • Rs 1,000 – Charges for a lifetime permit
     
  • Rs 5 – Daily permit charges for booze intake
     
  • 25 yrs – Age restriction for consuming IMFL
     
  • 21 yrs – Age restriction for mild liquor like beer
     
  • 12 Units* – of alcohol holder is allowed to stock per month as per this permit
     
  • *Unit covers 1,000ml IMFL or country liquor, 1,500-ml wine or 2,600ml of beer
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