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Excise staff stonewall department bid to hug technology

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BENGALURU: With liquor licences due for renewal from July 1, the commissioner does not want officials in same positions as they were in same posts for many years now.

The Excise Department’s efforts to take renewal of licences for sale of alcoholic beverages online has met with stiff resistance from within. The field staffers are trying to stonewall the initiative but excise commissioner Munish Moudgil seems determined to enforce it.

Rampant corruption is often cited as the reason for the Excise Department not working up to the expectations and its potential.

There were heated arguments recently between the excise commissioner and inspector-rank officials and below when the former refused to re-instate 527 officials who were transferred on the eve of Assembly polls. Of these, about 150 were working in Bengaluru before the transfer. They now want to be posted back, a demand the commissioner is in no mood to concede.

With liquor licences due for renewal from July 1, the commissioner does not want these officials in their original positions. The officials were said to be in same posts for many years now. Bengaluru accounts for a third of the 10,250 liquor shops in the state. The department aims to collect a licence renewal fee of Rs 597 crore this year, of which 47% comes from Bengaluru.

Chief minister HD Kumaraswamy had initially agreed to the demands of around 70 women staffers and had asked the excise commissioner to reinstate them on humanitarian grounds. But two days ago, he is believed to have thrown his weight behind the commissioner and endorsed his decision. Banking on the CM’s support, Moudgil is now all set to introduce online licence renewal system for liquor shops across the state from June 16. The reason to introduce an online system is to break the nexus between the officials and shops. “Officials and licensees maintain a cosy relationship which leads to rampant illegalities during licence renewal. I want to break this,” Moudgil said.

According to him, the online system will prevent officials from harassing liquor shop owners who are known to make small violations while letting go big violators in exchange of money. “We have developed a software which makes renewal system time-bound. An official cannot hold on to a renewal application for more than a week,” Moudgil said. Also, the department has, for the first time, listed out 33 types of violations and the kind of action they would invite.

Pubs and liquor shop owners are sceptical about the effectiveness of the initiative. “The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) introduced online renewal of trade licences and we all know its fate. Though the Excise Department’s online renewal system is a good move, we should see how efficiently it works,” said Amit Roy, who manages a chain of lounges in Bengaluru.

Bengaluru Nagara Zilla Madya Vyaparigala Sangha president Lokesh said the online renewal system may not stop corruption and harassment in the renewal process. “Officials would continue to take bribe, if not during renewal, may be later,” he said.

Another liquor retailer said that as long as the pressure to “meet the target” (sale of liquor to reach the revenue generation target) remains, illegalities will continue.

The excise commissioner, however, said the department is planning to introduce a slew of measures such as mandatory installation of CCTV cameras in liquor shops and replacing hologram labelling on liquor bottles with QR code and the online renewal system was just the beginning. “The first task is to break the unholy relationship between the officials and liquor shops owners,” Moudgil said.

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