Feb 13: The Maharashtra Cabinet decision to allow sale of wines through Supermarkets with a minimum area of 100 sq. mtrs. might have been a progressive decision for the farmers and small wineries but the indiscriminate and inaccurate reporting by mainstream media sensationalising the issue resulted in strong opposition with the activist Anna Hazare threatening to go on hunger strike which he suspended today with satisfactory assurance from the government, writes Subhash Arora who feels that the activist who has filed a PIL in the High Court ought to be penalised monetarily
Social activist Anna Hazare had announced a few days ago an indefinite hunger strike from February 14 against the Maharashtra government over its decision to allow sale of wine in supermarkets and walk-in stores with several restrictions. He had sent a Reminder to the Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray yesterday threatening to launch an indefinite hunger strike against the government decision.
Earlier this week, a man from Ahmednagar the hometown of Anna Hazare, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the High Court with the Plea that the action by the State government to allow sale of wine through grocery stores and supermarkets was taken in a hurry to raise tax revenues and would glamorise the consumption of alcohol when the State should be focused on prohibition. Also, this was against the Government Resolution (GR) of August 2011 stressing on the de-addiction of the youth. The complainant also pleaded that the system would make it possible for the underage adults to buy wine freely.
Anna Hazare is one of the most respected activists of India, who was perhaps misguided by the spiced up media reports that this one single order by the Maharashtra government would make the State alcoholic. The cabinet had taken a decision on 27 January, allowing supermarkets with a minimum area of 100 square meters and 10 employees to sell wine (only) in the supermarket-provided they were walk-in-shops, shop-within shop where wine was not visible from the street and if stored within a space of 2.5*2.5*2.5 meters under lock and key. The other restrictions like the minimum distance from the religious places and schools and only for adults over 25 years old, would be maintained.
The cabinet had taken the decision because it would increase the income of the farmers. Wine grape growing has been a lucrative business for the farmers and ease in marketing would give smaller wineries with limited marketing budgets, a chance to survive in a financially unstable industry which is already subjected to the vagaries of nature and government policies.
This was perhaps the best decision taken by the cabinet since the Maharashtra State Excise had issued a policy in 2001, promoting wine production in the State, making Nashik the wine capital of India and bringing Maharashtra on the world map. But smaller producers have been complaining that their wines found roadblocks with the Retail being heavily cartelised. They hope to not only survive but give farmers-turned-vintners a better chance to succeed.
A day before Hazare was to go on an indefinite fast, Ms. Valsa Nair Singh, the Principal Secretary, Tourism, Excise & Civil Aviation, Government of Maharashtra, had met the activist and appraised him of the facts. She agreed to put the cabinet decision in public domain for 45 days to seek the opinion of the people, according to Jagdish Holkar, President of All India Wine Producers Association which has been following with the government for the last 18 months to allow the sales of wines in the Supermarkets.
Media has been sensationalising the issue by claiming that the grocery stores and supermarkets will be allowed to sell liquor (unfortunately most people are still ignorant about the difference between wine and liquor and lump every alcoholic beverage under the liquor category). Studies after studies have shown that wine is good for health when drunk in moderation. Made from fruits like grapes. strawberries, Kiwi, Jamun, Chikoo etc, which ferment into wine when exposed to air with some yeast, they are natural fruit products and are in fact fermented fruits only, and the processing only harnesses the fruits and helps them go to waste. They are also a healthy option to be consumed with food.
It is pertinent to note that the Infamous Permit system will still be followed strictly. No one in Maharashtra is allowed to buy alcohol without a Permit which is to be made by the retailer/sales vends for a daily fee or Rs. 5 per permit.
Today, a delegation of about 500 farmers led by Kailash Bhonsle, Vice President of Maharashtra Grape Growers Association met Hazare and voiced their strong support to the policy and explained to him that this would go a long way in alleviating their financial condition and that they were very happy with the decision, adds Holkar.
They apprised him of the benefits to the farmers and explained to him that wine was already being sold all over Maharashtra (and in fact exported to various states in India and overseas) and had already helped improve their economic situation. They urged him to support the movement and not oppose it and not to go on hunger strike, with a veiled threat that if he did so, 500 farmers would sit on dharna in front of him and the number may go to 5,000 and eventually 50,000!
Anna listened to them patiently and apparently understood their story and assured them he was with them, according to a Report in a Marathi daily.
Apparently a truce has been announced with Hazare forcing the government to take a democratic approach and know the opinion of citizens through a public Poll. The adage ‘One man's meat is another man's poison,’ clearly applies to this case.
It also shows how neurotic, polarised and ill-informed people can be. Liquor and wine are like chalk and cheese. Liquor is a high alcohol product and apt to be misused beyond the pocket and the body. Wine is a food product, low in alcohol, and almost never consumed to get drunk. Since it is an agricultural product, it tends to be helpful for increasing the income of the farmer; it can create a much higher number of jobs than any other alcoholic product.
So ladies and gentlemen over 25 years of age! Please get ready to vote in favour of the best proposal coming from any state government in India so far. And remember, the Maharashtra excise policy has been in existence since 2001 and was extended for 10 years in 2011. The fresh policy from 2021 was announced last month and apart from applying a nominal duty of Rs. 10 a liter, there has been practically no change.
The wine is sold though the retail shops and restaurants and there are special licenses for wine and beer retail sales. The proposed policy allows the sale of wine through supermarkets and grocery stores- there are around 600 of these in the whole of Maharashtra, meeting the basic requirements and not all of them are obliged to stock and sell wines.
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