June 02: Some stores in the capital city of Aizawl in Mizoram were raided last Friday and huge quantities of locally manufactured grape wines, known as Champwine, were seized along with liquor and beer making the Grape farmers of Mizoram up in the arms against the Mizo National Front government, with the growers threatening to launch an agitation against the government
While the grape growers have demanded the immediate return of the seized wine bottles, threatening that they would launch an agitation against the government's action, Excise minister K Beichhua reportedly said that the government did not target the locally processed grape wine but seized the bottles as per the law as the wine bottles were found along with foreign liquor and beer bottles during a recent raid.
The minister insisted that the raids were conducted based on information that Korean Soju and other foreign liquors were being sold in those stores. "We have acted in accordance with the Mizoram Liquor Prohibition Act, 2019 which prohibits sale, consumption and manufacture of alcohol. We have no choice but to seize the locally made grape wine as it has alcohol content, and the wine bottles were also found among branded liquor," says Beichhua who assured the protestors that the government would take steps to ensure that the grape growers faced no difficulties in earning their livelihood from the plantations.
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Fulfilling its pre-poll promise, the MNF government had earlier passed The Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition) Bill, 2019 in March 2019, replacing a four-year-old law enacted by the previous Congress government that had withdrawn the prohibition.
The new law prohibits import, export, transport, manufacture, possession, sale and consumption of alcohol in the state, barring three autonomous district council areas in southern Mizoram, according to the State Excise Department. Although the new prohibition rules were notified, they were cancelled in December 2019, according to Newsclick.in.
Beichhua added that the rules of the new liquor law, drafted based on the assessment of a committee that involved officials, NGOs and churches, have been approved by the cabinet and would be notified soon.
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The Mizoram Liquor Total Prohibition Act, 1995, came into force from February 1997, imposing a complete ban on alcohol until the new liquor law allowing opening of wine shop was introduced by the erstwhile Congress government in 2014. The previous MNF government had given licences to societies to set up wineries in Champhai and Hnahlan in 2007 under special provision.
Grapes grown to make wine are processed in Champhai district in the eastern part of the state. Champhai Grape Growers' Society (CGGS), and Hnahlan Grape Growers and Processing Cooperative Society passed resolutions on Saturday, demanding the state government return the seized wine bottles. The societies also demanded that the state government should allow them to sell the wine freely.
C Zohmingliana, CGGS general secretary said that since 2004-2005 several families in Champhai and Hnahlan were growing Bangalore Blue which can't be consumed as fruit but is meant for making red port and sacramental wines. Despite the Prohibition Act, 1995, which came into force in February 1997 imposing a complete ban on alcohol, the then MNF government had given licenses to societies to set up wineries in Champhai and Hnahlan in 2007 under a special provision, he claims.
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Wine processing began in 2010 and those were initially sold in the local market and to a Guwahati-based manufacturing unit till 2019 when the government introduced the new law imposing total prohibition, claiming that the locally processed wines were sold in an agreement with the government till date. Closing the wineries would have a huge impact on hundreds of families, who completely depend on grape plantations for livelihood, he said.
The general public and politicians have also reacted sharply to the seizure of locally manufactured wines. The only BJP MLA BD Chakma said he did not understand the government’s liquor policy as the same wine that was seized was served to a visiting Union minister during a felicitation programme he had attended recently.
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The new liquor law sought to prohibit import, export, transport, manufacture, possession, sale and consumption of alcohol in the state barring three autonomous district councils in the southern part of the state. It came into effect in May 2019. Although the new prohibition rules were notified by the state government, they were cancelled in December 2019.
Chakma said that the wineries, if closed, would hugely affect hundreds of families, who are completely dependent on grapes for their livelihood.
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A political analyst, on conditions of anonymity, says that the recent seizure of locally-manufactured grape wine exposed the absence of proper rules for processing locally produced wines. He said the vendors have been selling grape wines clandestinely for years as they could not renew their licence due to the imposition of the total prohibition law. He said that the wineries in Champhai and Hnahlan areas have also been facing a crisis for years in the import of Extra Neutral Alcohol (ENA) required for processing wine due to the absence of proper laws.
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