Rajasthan village ousts booze shop through polling

Jaipur, March 29: A village in Rajsamand’s Kachchbali village today voted out a government liquor shop from their area democratically, making it a first in the history of the desert state and perhaps in India.

Rajasthan’s excise policy has a provision that if 51% of the voting population vote for removal of liquor shop, the government will be bound to close down the shop. Kachchbali village,about 260 km from the state capital, which has a population of about 6000, with a voting population of about 2886, polled 67.11% in favour of removing the liquor shop for the new financial year 2016-17 beginning on April 1.

SDM, Bhim, N K Jain announced the results, saying 2039 people voted today, out of which 1937 voted in favour, while 33 went against it. And 69 votes got cancelled. So if one looks at the number of votes polled, then at least 95.4% people were in favour of removing the shop.

Today’s voting, conducted by the district administration, is mainly due to the untiring efforts of five ordinary village women, Sita Kunwar, Kusumlata Chauhan, Hira Chuahan, Sheela Chauhan and Shanta Karnawat. At a Republic Day function on January 26 this year, Sita thought up of writing a letter demanding removal of the liquor shop to the village sarpanch Geeta Kunwar. They have been contemplating this move since they have had to face the ordeal of drunken brawls, beatings, fund crunch, losing their family members due to accidents, all due to alcohol addiction.

The women say : “The village women are fed up of domestic violence, wherein the drunk husbands, brothers beat up everybody including the children. Accidents often due to drunken driving.And there is no work in the village, except labour work. Whatever little the men earn from labour is all spent on liquor. And the shop being in the midst of the village, it is easily available.”

The state excise department said it is the first time that a gram panchayat is voting for closure of a liquor shop. The polling process is being conducted by the district administration. The voting take place only after 20 percent of the voting population first agree to such a proposal. The proposal has to be verified by the district SDM (sub-divisional magistrate) and by the Excise Commissioner. Then it has to be endorsed by the Collector. Only then the district administration makes all arrangements for the poll process.

If there are 51 percent votes in favour of the resolution, a provision will be made for the closure of the shop from the next financial year.

The villagers already conducted two rounds of polls at their own level to see if the village votes in favour of removing the shop. That was on Feb 27 and March 9 this year. After the March polling gave a result of 64% people voting in favour of removing the shop, the administration could not refuse the villagers’ proposal and had to conduct the polls today.
Vikram Pal Singh of Magra Shakti Sena, who spearheaded the movement in the village and also works in four other districts, says : “The problem of liquor addiction is acute here. There have been many difficulties in getting the fair voting process done. Officials and liquor dealers are obviously against the move and have been trying to put spanner in the entire process. But the village women persevered and got their way in fair and transparent manner today.”

The village women have been canvassing for the past three months as if there is an election on At least 10 unlicensed shop also abound in the area, other than the licensed government shop. But Sheela Chauhan, who is also saathin, one of the main persons behind this unique initiative, says: “If the government licensed shop is removed, we will remove smaller and unlicensed ones at our own level. That would not be too difficult, considering the hardships we have gone through till now.”

Meanwhile, the Vasundhara Raje government has often been accused of promoting liquor culture in the state. They have been accused of giving licences to a number of shops, thereby increasing the number of liquor shops in cities and towns in past two years. The government has also approved the online sale of liquor. Activists allege that the 8pm deadline of liquor sale rule made by the previous Congress government is being violated openly now.
The Opposition Congress allege that by promoting liquor, the government has also increased the limit of liquor one could keep at home as stock, due to which cases of domestic violence has also gone up. The state government has bound liquor sellers to increase their sale by 20% from the previous set limit. A provision has also been made under which if a seller is unable to achieve the target, a special fee will be imposed as monetary fine.

It may be recalled that an anti-liquor crusader Gurcharan Chhabra, 66, had died in November last year after fasting for a month. Chhabra went on fast on Gandhi Jayanti Day last year demanding purna sharabbandi in the state.

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