UP's Bacchus lovers go from 'videshi' to 'desi'
Lucknow, May 16 (IANS) Are the soaring prices of what is called Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) forcing many whiskey lovers in Uttar Pradesh to switch to locally brewed liquor, known locally as 'tharra'?
Excise officials say this may be a "temporary taste switchover", but industry insiders point out that the prices of IMFL have witnessed more than Rs.20-25 hike per quarter bottle.
Conservative estimates of the last month show that the shift has been drastic in some places, with as many as 13-15 percent IMFL users going for the countrymade variety, an official told IANS.
"Ab to bada mushkil hai, shaam ko thoda gam galak kar lete they, ab to mehengai ne wahan bhi grahan laga diya hai. (It is very tough now, we used to be happy for a few hours in the evening but now price rise has spiked that too)," said Abhinav Srivastava, a bank executive and a regular drinker.
The price hike, sources say, was a direct result of the revision of the excise department's revenue targets by the Samajwadi Party (SP) government, which soon after its coronation had begun to eye the lucrative liquor market to spruce up the bleeding coffers.
The Akhilesh Yadav government has set a whopping Rs.10,070 crore target for the state excise department for the current financial year.
State Excise Commissioner Mahesh Gupta ruled out the switch to tharra as a trend and said there might be stray incidents in some pockets.
"This is unlikely to be a trend; it may be the case only in certain places rather than being a pan-Uttar Pradesh phenomenon," Gupta said.
Officials say this shift is largely restricted to 'fringe elements' - people who enjoyed IMFL but were traditionally country liquor drinkers.
"There is a shift, no doubt, but then we have to see these were people from the middle class who would enjoy IMFL not just because they liked it but also because it came cheap," averred an official.
A look at the rates of IMFL clearly shows a steep hike in the prices of major brands - Green label, McDowell No.1, Teachers, Blenders Pride, 8 PM and Bagpiper - by about 20-25 percent. This translates into an increase of Rs.125 per bottle.
The new excise revenue target is Rs.2,000 crore above the target achieved last year under the previous Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government.
The government has also fixed the revenue and tax it plans to levy on each bottle of beer, IMFL and countrymade liquor. The maximum target is for Lucknow, which has been assigned a lion's share of Rs.614 crore.
The industrial hub of Kanpur has been set a target of Rs.577 crore followed closely by the Taj city of Agra with a revenue target of Rs.514 crore.
Orders have been issued to officials to ensure meeting of the targets assigned to them. Excise officials have also been asked to inform the district magistrates and divisional commissioners of the targets.
Lucknow, with an ever-growing number of alcohol lovers, has emerged as a frontrunner district for the state excise department. It is for this reason that the state capital has been given a target of Rs.50 crore per month. Kanpur comes second and Ghaziabad third while Agra is fourth and Meerut fifth in terms of revenue generation. The lowest excise revenue targets have been given to Shrawasti (Rs.13.3 crore) and Kaushambi (Rs.16.45 crore) districts.
(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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