Gorkhatimes

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Dry run: No liquor in Darjeeling from Nov 7

Posted by Ramesh Khati on November 6, 2009

DARJEELING 6 Nov(TOI): There will be no liquor in Darjeeling from November 7 — not a sip for tourists, not a sip for locals. Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) issued this diktat, apparently to deprive state government of the revenue it earns from liquor sale in the Hills.

Bars, restaurants and liquor shop owners in Darjeeling have little choice but to toe GJM’s line, even if it means giving up their sole means of livelihood. This means no more Kangchenjunga sunsets, nursing a glass of whiskey. Locals have it worse – a bitter winter without spirits. And what’s the Darjeeling administration – that has virtually allowed Bimal Gurung and GJM a free run – doing about it?
Apparently nothing. ‘‘We are not worried about the GJM diktat,’’ said an excise department official.

‘‘We are more concerned about the health of the Darjeeling people because they will turn to illicit liquor.’’

Gurung’s claim that he wants to stop the flow of liquor revenue to the state coffers has no logic, say excise officials. ‘‘It’s absurd to think that way. In fact, all taxes are paid in Siliguri before the liquor is brought to the Hills,’’ said an official.

Gurung insists the government made Rs 40 crore through sale of liquor during Puja alone. Last month, he announced closure of licensed liquor shops as part of the ‘non-cooperation movement’ against the state. Import of liquor from Sikkim (which is cheaper), too, was stopped. Gorkhaland Personnel have been deployed on NH-31A to check vehicles for liquor.

When another excise official was asked about the impact of the closure, he said: ‘‘Revenue-wise it will not make much of a difference as Siliguri is a much bigger source. In Darjeeling, import will be hit and also supply to army.’’

The real losers will be those who depend on the liquor business to run their family. In the three Hills subdivisions, there are 53 licensed bar and restaurants, 19 licensed shops and 24 country spirit outlets. Licensed shop owners refused to talk on the issue, saying they would have to obey the GJM diktat, no matter what.

‘‘We will suffer heavy losses but we can’t do anything about it,’’ said an off-shop retailer. In the past four weeks, liquor shops are incurring a loss of Rs 30-35,000 each day.

The Darjeeling Bar and Restaurant Owner’s Association also refused to talk. ‘‘We tried to meet Bimal Gurung to request him not to close the liquor shops, but could not. We have no choice but to shut shop,’’ said association secretary Dharmendra Poddar.

For many in Darjeeling, it’s now a question of survival. Some bar owners are thinking of converting into restaurants, but with tourist inflow drying to a trickle after GJM started its agitation, restaurant and bar owners are already scraping the bottom of the barrel. ‘‘What about our staff? They have families to feed?’’ said a bar owner. Some are holding on to the hope that Gurung will lift the ban after a few months.

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