JAMMU: Terming the Draft Excise Policy 2021-22 as an infringement of the rights of the bonafide permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir after abrogation of Article 370, prominent citizens and various Jammu based organisation on Thursday reminded the Centre and the Union Territory Administration of the promises about protecting and safeguarding the interests and aspirations of the locals.“If it can happen with the liquor trade, no other sphere of economic activity will remain insulated from the influx of big businesses from outside”, said a protesting liquor trader, adding that the move has come as a shock to all those who had supported the political developments of August 5, 2019.He recalled the assurance of Home Minister Amit Shah, in his address to Lok Sabha, asserting that the bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir will progress and flourish like the Union Territory of Pondicherry. However, the sequence of events reflects otherwise. Citing the example of the Draft Excise Policy, he said the Pondicherry administration had adopted the existing Excise Policy of Jammu & Kashmir after due consideration and deliberations in wake of spree of deaths due to consumption of spurious liquor. The hooch tragedies had become order of the day, forcing the Pondicherry Government to analyse the excise policies of other states of the country. After going through all the policies, the administrative and financial experts had reached the conclusion that the policy in vogue in Jammu and Kashmir was viable, practical and ideal to overcome the adverse situations like hooch tragedies. After adopting the J&K model, no such tragedy recurred thereafter, he said, adding that their revenue too increased manifold. On the contrary, instead of feeling proud on the time-tested mechanism, the J&K Administration is opening the trade to outsiders as well through e-auctioning, he wondered.Another protesting trader expressed apprehension that the J&K Government will substantially lose the revenue generated by way of the existing Excise Duty and endanger the lives of the consumers, as used to happen in Pondicherry in infamous hooch tragedies.An elderly lady, dependent on the family business of liquor, narrated her ordeal to the media persons in the temple city, saying she was horrified to imagine the future of the family in the wake of e-auctioning of the trade, as her husband was bed-ridden due to physical disability and there were no chances of him standing again to strive for any other avocation. Similarly, other traders said that they had to go nowhere once their business establishments are shut. They said they had inherited the trade from their ancestors and the generations were dependent on this business alone. In the wake of burgeoning unemployment and due to being over-aged, the youngsters engaged with this trade will come on roads. Is there any alternative for them with the government, he asked, adding that thousands of people were associated with the business directly or indirectly. It will not be the employers alone but the employees as well who will be ruined by implementation of the new Excise Policy.Acknowledging the widespread resentment in Jammu and unrest among the traders, sources said that Union Minister Dr Jitendra Singh has already taken cognizance of the genuine concerns of the stakeholders. The Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office is reportedly having counseled the UT Administration about putting the proposed policy on hold in the larger interest of the vast majority of the stakeholders.The proposed policy has political cantours as well. The proposal has sent shockwaves among the permanent residents, who are already apprehensive of their lands and jobs going to outsiders. The adversaries of the BJP, in their private interactions with the liquor trades, are believed to be creating fear psychosis, saying that if it can happen to their trade, no sector will remain insulated. They fear that eventually the jobs of all categories would be opened up for non-locals thus depriving the whopping number of unemployed, who are already in a state of despondency due to vexed unemployment problem. The residents are also fearful of their lands going to outsiders thereby depriving the bonafide state subjects of their identity and culture.The fallout of the Draft Excise Policy is being seen on the Jammu trade and industry as well. Skeptical about the future moves of the administration, Jammu Chamber of Commerce & Industry (JCCI) on Wednesday stepped in and urged the government to protect and safeguard the interests of the JKEL-2 license holders while implementing the policy.“These license should continue to be renewed on terms of the Jammu and Kashmir Liquor License and Sale Rules, 1984 governed by the J&K Excise Act SVT 1958”, the JCCI said in a statement issued here.Inter-allia, the Chamber President Arun Gupta said that recent Draft Policy 2021-22 put in the public domain has been framed totally in conflict with J&K Excise Act SVAT-1958 as amended and Finance Department notification under SRO 679 dated 13-12-1984, as amended till date. It is settled position of law as a elaborated in related judgement of the High Court on December 28, 2020, that no policy can supersede the Act and rules for regulations in any trade.
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