Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, July 19:
Odisha Excise minister Damodar Rout today expressed the state government’s inability to put a complete ban on country liquor in the tribal-dominated districts as had been done by the Biju Patnaik-regime in early 1990s. He, however, pledged to curb liquor trade in the state.
“I am personally against the spread of hooch trade but we cannot dare to ban country liquor in the state altogether,” said Rout in the Assembly while replying to a debate on alleged unchecked liquor trade and ganja cultivation in the state.
“Biju Babu put a ban on the country liquor in tribal areas after a group of women prevailed over him to do so,” recalled Rout, who was a minister in the Janata Dal government headed by Biju from 1990-1995. He said Biju Babu, the then chief minister had sacrificed excise revenue generated from country liquor sale.
Admitting the fact in the House that the key to development of tribal population lies in total prohibition in their areas, the Excise minister said; “Unless there is total prohibition in the areas, pouring money into tribal areas for development has no meaning.”
While informing the House that there are about 2100 liquor shops near schools and temples, Rout said he is taking steps to shift them.
Rout said as many as 266 liquor shops had been closed and steps were being taken to ensure that there is no liquor outlet close to the National Highways.
Responding to allegations by opposition members on rampant ganja cultivation in the state, the minister said; “Maoists are undertaking ganja cultivation in certain areas of the state to finance their activities”.
The Excise minister informed the House that the state government has so far destroyed ganja plantations worth above Rs 900 crore and has empowered the district collectors to destroy such cultivation.
Rout said high level committees had been formed to stop such cultivation and informed that eight districts – Angul, Deogarh, Sambalpur, Rayagada, Phulbani, Gajapati, Malkangiri and Boudh – had been identified as places where ganja was being cultivated illegally.
Initiating the debate, Congress Chief Whip Tara Prasad Bahinipati highlighted how liquor traders from outside the state ran country liquor outlets in tribal areas.
Seeking eviction of such liquor vendors from undivided Koraput district and other remote areas, the Congress MLA from Jeypore said free flow of liquor in these areas had shattered lives of tribal families.
The Congress chief whip alleged that liquor was now available like chocolates in village shops and said a section of people who get cheap rice at the rate of Re 1 a kg used to purchase liquor by selling away the grains given to them under PDS.
Participating in the debate, BJP’s Pradeep Purohit and BB Harichandan said most of the youth were dying early after suffering from liver and kidney problems due to excessive consumption of liquor.