With panchayat elections announced, permit rooms and belt shops are sure to witness hectic activity

The bugle for panchayat elections has been sounded. While political parties are busy chalking out their strategies, there is a fraternity that is working overtime to make hay while the sun shines.

It is learnt that the liquor syndicate is actively drafting an action plan for the elections. The government’s new liquor policy of allowing ‘permit rooms’ in licensed liquor outlets has come in handy for the syndicate to boost liquor sales, in addition to the revenue it earns through existing illegal belt shops.

It is estimated that 2,500 belt shops exist in East Godavari district. Ironically, most of these shops thrive in proximity of the licensed outlets, in brazen violation of the orders of the Chief Minister to the Excise Department to close such shops within one month.

To the advantage of the boozers, these belt shops sell all varieties of liquor round the clock, which is not possible for the licensed outlets. This apart, the belt shops sell loose liquor too in quantities as less as 30 ml in plastic glasses and provide eatables too, which is why they are popular.

Presently, there are 555 retail liquor shops in East Godavari district, which sell 500 brands of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL), foreign liquor, and beer. Panchayat elections are going to be conducted in 962 villages. Each village has a minimum of 2 to 4 belt shops and one or two licensed outlets. The liquor syndicate is out to cash in on the elections, as most of the contestants will attempt to woo voters in the belt shops.

According sources in the Excise Department, there are 54 major and minor syndicates operating in East Godavari. Some 555 shops are being supported allegedly by representatives of the ruling party.

A senior excise official says, “An illegal small liquor shop or belt shop in the rural areas typically has a daily sales of Rs.1,000. Those in towns have sales ranging from Rs.5,000 to Rs.10,000 per day.”

Despite ACB raids on the syndicates across the State, the belt shops continue with their business with impunity. S. Subash, who has a licensed shop in the district, says, “Belt shops account for nearly half of the Rs.957.73 crore liquor and beer sales per annum. Without belt shops, you cannot sell your stock. They are the main selling points because they sell loose liquor, which is not permitted in our shops. If the government cracks down on the belt shops, liquor sales will come down drastically in the State, affecting the State’s revenue.”

According to a senior Excise Department official, the belt shops are not confined to rural and interior pockets alone. They exist in towns and cities too. Closing down belt shops will have a direct impact on the sales of licensed liquor outlets.

“We have no reports that licensed shops are selling more than the MRP. If there is any information, we will raid such outlets. The licence of any shop booked for three times consecutively will be cancelled. As far as belt shops are concerned, we have formed special squads and stringent action will be taken,” says K. Sastry, Assistant Commissioner, Excise, Kakinada.

Whatever be the situation, for the boozers it is a win-win situation.