No liquor here, say two village panchayats

Invoking a 45-year-old law, Rajasthan villagers vote overwhelmingly in favour of closing licensed shops

November 16, 2021 01:22 am | Updated 01:23 am IST - JAIPUR

Villagers queuing up for a referendum on closure of licensed liquor shops at Barar village in Rajasthan.

Villagers queuing up for a referendum on closure of licensed liquor shops at Barar village in Rajasthan.

Utilising a legal route to abolish alcoholism, two villages in Rajsamand district of Rajasthan have voted overwhelmingly for permanent closure of liquor shops following a prolonged campaign launched by women against liquor consumption in the region. Over 90% of the villagers voted in support of enforcing liquor prohibition in the polling held on Saturday.

A 45-year-old law, the Rajasthan Excise (Closure of Country Liquor Shop by Local Option) Rules, 1975, published in the State Gazette on January 8, 1976, was invoked for the unusual voting, which made the closure of licensed shops possible. The statutory rules lay down that if 51% of the registered voters in the village panchayat opt for closure of a liquor shop, it has to shut down.

The campaign against alcoholism was launched in Barar and Hamela Ki Ver villages of Bhim tehsil in Rajsamand in 2015, when the women submitted a memorandum to the district administration seeking closure of liquor shops. They complained that liquor consumption had ruined several families and given a boost to domestic violence and other crimes.

Women at forefront

Led by Barar Sarpanch Pankaja Singh, women and local activists periodically organised rallies, held demonstrations and approached the administration repeatedly with the plea to save the families through prohibition. After the verification of the petition as per the Excise Act, the administration fixed the date for referendum in April this year, which was deferred to November because of second wave of the pandemic.

In the referendum held at five polling booths set up at Rajiv Gandhi Seva Kendra in Barar, 3,624 of the 5,632 registered voters in the two villages turned up for the poll. Women came out in hordes with enthusiasm to take part in the exercise which involved putting a stamp on ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in the ballot paper.

An overwhelming number of 3,261 votes, comprising more than 90% of the total votes, were cast in favour of closure of liquor shops, while only 146 were against. “The referendum’s outcome reflects the resentment against alcoholism, which has led to domestic violence against women and children, distress sale of property, families falling in debt trap and the youth falling addicted to liquor,” Ms. Singh told The Hindu on Monday.

Interestingly, the activists had appealed to the migrant workers, who had come home to celebrate Deepavali, to stay put till voting day and participate in the referendum. Bhim MLA Sudarshan Singh Rawat and Hamela Ki Ver Sarpanch Ramesh Kumar camped outside the polling booths and appealed to the voters to cast their ballot in favour of shutting the liquor vends.

Licence to be withdrawn

All the liquor shops in the two villages will be closed and their excise licence withdrawn from the commencement of the next financial year on April 1, 2022, for which a notification will be issued shortly. With the completion of referendum, seven village panchayats in the State have so far exercised their right and opted for liquor prohibition.

The other villages where similar referendums were undertaken earlier and liquor shops closed were Kachhbali, Mandawar and Thaneta in Rajsamand district, Phoga Bharthari in Churu and Rojda in Jaipur district.

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