The government has decided to end the menace of ‘belt shops” (unauthorised liquor outlets) in the State by undertaking a drive now to close them all immediately.

Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy set a 30-day time-limit for officials of the Excise Department to come back with a report suggesting a policy and action plan to prevent opening of these shops again by unscrupulous elements.

It is a follow up to the assurance he had given to the Self Help Group women at Eluru two days ago after Union Rural Development Minister, Jairam Ramesh sought his intervention. When Mr. Ramesh asked the women whether these shops should be closed, they responded with a resounding yes. He then appealed to the Chief Minister to listen to the voice of the women and ensure their closure.

Speaking to reporters after discussions with the Chief Minster here on Wednesday, Excise Minister K. Parthasarathy, however, said there was no official information indicating number of belt shops in existence in the State and about where they were located.

The Minister’s stand was sure to draw criticism from several quarters because, the details specifying the number of the belt shops were provided to the media on a daily basis by Chief Electoral Officer Bhanwarlal, during the by-elections conducted to various vacant seats of the Assembly and the Legislative Council.

The CEO used to keep the media posted with information about the number of the shops closed for the day. At that time, it was estimated that a minimum of 3,000 belt shops existed in the State as a whole. Mr Parthasarathy said there were 5,980 licensed liquor shops in the State. Another six hundreds shops could not be auctioned last year for a long time as they were no takers for them. Even after repetition of auctioning exercise, only 160 out of them could be allotted.

The Minister said the policy for new excise year would be finalised shortly but it would contain, by and large, the present main features, including allotment of shops through drawal of lots. The allottees could renew their licences for the second year if they wanted. The excise revenue, as a whole, stood at Rs 1,800 crore now.

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