Punjab cabinet ministers today walked out of a meeting with bureaucrats to decide a new excise policy, sources said. Finance Minister Manpreet Badal had an argument with Chief Secretary Karan Avatar Singh over deciding the new excise policy, which liquor vendors in Punjab had been demanding so that tax will be on the basis of sales instead of the fixed quota system.
Punjab cabinet minister Charanjit Singh also walked out of the meeting, which was held before the full cabinet meeting to hammer out the new excise policy.
Meanwhile, in anther flashpoint between ministers and bureaucrats in Punjab, Prisons Minister Sukhjinder Randhawa said the officers did not consult him before declaring jails as quarantine centres, said a senior officer who asked not to be named.
Punjab was the first state to demand that liquor shops should be opened amid the coronavirus lockdown to harvest some much needed revenue. But it is not bringing much revenue since only 10 per cent of liquor shops are open.
The contractors say they don't want to open their shops as they want to be taxed on the basis of sales and not on the fixed quota system.
"The government needs to change its excise policy. The daily license fee is around Rs 2 lakh and amid the lockdown, we don't have much sales," liquor contractor Inderjeet Singh said.
Some contractors say they are worried that home delivery of liquor as directed by the Supreme Court may encourage bootlegging.
"Home delivery of liquor is a difficult task with many challenges. This system can also promote bootlegging and also has chances of spreading coronavirus," another liquor contractor Sachin Sood said.
Congress MLA Amarinder Singh Raja tweeted Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh should act against the top bureaucrat. "Respected @capt_amarinder ji, This type of contumacious behaviour by the Chief Secretary time & again is unacceptable. He has regularly disregarded our cabinet ministers & their decisions. I request you to kindly remove him from his post immediately," Mr Raja said.
Congress MP Partap Singh Bajwa tweeted, "Captain Amarinder Singh, I appreciate your efforts in trying to make the PM coordinate COVID activities with CMs. It may help if you would offer the same courtesy to your own colleagues when it comes to affairs of Punjab?"
Another Congress MP tweeted to condemn the ministers from walking out. "During Corona pandemic, the coordination between Ministers and bureaucrats should be strong but Ministers walking out from a Pre-Cabinet Meeting should might as well resign for their incompetent behavior as Many other Capable of handling Work pressure are ready to replace them," Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu tweeted.
Punjab earns over Rs 550 crore excise duty from liquor sales every month.
The state government's move to open liquor shops has been criticised by the opposition Shiromani Akali Dal, whose leaders and workers have been distributing milk outside liquor shops.
"Had the government shown the alacrity in opening ration shops, the mass exodus of labourers could have been stopped," Akali leader Daljeet Cheema said.
The standoff with the contractors and now bureaucrats is a big challenge for the state government, which was hoping that its revenue collection will get better once liquor shops are opened.