Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan on Wednesday announced a roll back of the cabinet decision to allow Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) to be sold at Country Liquor outlets. The opposition Congress had termed this as "repaying the liquor mafia for bankrolling the BJP's campaign."

The cabinet on Monday had decided to allow country liquor licensees to apply for IMFL licences in settlements with populations of more than 5000 where an IMFL vend does not exist in a 10 km radius. The revenue implications of the move are still unclear, although revenue department sources say that more than 200 licences were expected to be issued.

Speaking at the BJP’s state executive meeting Mr. Chouhan said that he had heard several views against the decision before deciding to roll back. “The cabinet did this to prevent the sale of spurious liquor. In villages where people buy country liquor, there is also unauthorised distribution of IMFL. By this move we wanted to stop this illegal sale. But I could not sleep at night. I felt this was not right... This was to bring revenue, but we will find other means of raising revenue,” he said.

When he was sworn in, Mr. Chouhan had said he was committed to eradicating alcoholism and that no new liquor outlets would be allowed. While the cabinet decision disallowed any new shops, it augmented the penetration of IMFL in rural areas which primarily consumed country liquor.

Adivasi and women’s rights activist Madhuri Ben, who has been a part of the women’s movement against alcohol in the Nimar region, had called this step “a betrayal.”

“More liquor means more people will drink and cause further depletion of household incomes. In reality, ninety percent of liquor sold is illegal. One licensee runs 15 outlets which are all illegal. This will only increase the supply. There is no check on spurious liquor anyway, either of country spirit or IMFL,” she told The Hindu on Tuesday.

On the sidelines of the BJP state executive meeting here on January 7, senior BJP leader Prahlad Patel said, “I run a programme for eradication of alcoholism. This decision will create problems for the masses. I hope the government will reconsider it.”

State BJP president Narendra Tomar washed his hands off the cabinet decision and said, “It is a government decision. Only its (state’s) representatives can explain why this decision was taken. The party has no part in it.”

Ministers Gopal Bhargava, Babulal Gaur and Gaurishankar Shejwar reportedly opposed the decision. BJP sources confirmed that senior MLA Maya Singh also advised a review of the decision during the meeting today.

However, those supporting had claimed that greater than the excise revenue it would bring is the effect it would have in curbing the sale of spurious liquor. “Spurious liquor causes deaths, yet it is consumed. It is a social problem. No new shops will be opened but customers will be able to buy IMFL from licensees rather than the black market,” urban development minister Kailash Vijayvargiya said on Tuesday.

On Wednesday Vijayvargiya said that he supported the CM’s decision. “People are more important than revenue,” he said.