In the recent Maharashtra cabinet meeting Eknath Khadse and Sudhir Mungantiwar fought with each other on a bitter and heated notes; all this happened on the issue of levying drought surcharge on ĹIQUOR – ALCOHOL. Khadse had no objections to impose surcharge on cigarettes and cold drinks but he was opposing levy on alcohol. Frankly speaking, then alcohol consumers are too less than smokers or cold drinks users. So, it’s strange that Khadse was more concerned and worried about alcoholics; rather than majority consumers. If you remember even BJP supporter and election campaigner Baba Ramdev too was against soft drinks and smoking on health grounds. Moreover, prohibition in India exists in the states of Gujarat, Nagaland and parts of Manipur; as well as the Union Territory of Lakshadweep. Kerala is implementing prohibition in a phased manner. All other Indian states and union territories permit the sale of alcohol. Maharashtra is one of the states where nothing is concretely implemented or executed. Khadse was more concerned about the classes those consume alcohol on regular basis at large.
Khadse, who was finance minister between 1995-1999, knows that the state’s tax structure has reached the saturation level. Instead of enhancing taxes on liquor and fuel, we should emphasize on galvanising our network for resource mobilisation. We must block all the loopholes and ensure that maximum tax is recovered. Khadse said, it was high time the state government drafted a comprehensive action plan to the recover sales tax amount of Rs. 30,000 crore (as on September 30, 2015) locked following various stays. The stay orders on recovery have been passed by assistant, deputy and joint sales tax commissioners, the commissioner as well as the tribunal. Khadse thinks that state should bring in changes in laws to recover the huge amount. If we are able to recover even half of it, no fresh taxes would be required to tackle the drought. Whereas, Mungantiwar the state finance minister at this moment has different opinion.
The way Mungantiwar and Khadse had intensely quarrelled over the issue of levying surcharge on ĹIQUOR was a flimsy reason. The fact is that, there is ongoing distrust, anger and competition among both. Khadse grabbed the opportunity to vent his anger against Mungantiwar. Surprisingly, when both ministers were engaged in argument our chief minister Devendra Fadnavis didn’t utter a single word but he was observing everything silently. I can understand, it’s not easy for Fadnavis to control these two heavyweight warlords of BJP, both are seasoned ministers and much more experienced than Chief Minister himself. Angry exchanges between senior ministers Eknath Khadse and Sudhir Mungantiwar, kept no option to Fadnavis than remain a silent spectator of the spat. While Khadse and Mungantiwar vehemently pleaded their cases and a few ministers backed Khadse, the cabinet gave its nod to impose surcharge on liquor. While Khadse supporters reacted positively after cabinet meeting, those who are close to Mungantiwar are not happy about the incident.
Revenue Minister Khadse arguments was that the rates of liquor in the neighbouring states are comparatively low. This, according to him, was costing the state exchequer in terms of reduced sale of liquor. When Khadse said this, many other ministers supported him and opposed imposition of the surcharge. Mungantiwar, who is a strong advocate of prohibition and has successfully prohibited liquor in his own district Chandrapur, strongly batted for imposing surcharge on liquor. He said that there was nothing wrong if surcharge was levied on those who can afford to consume liquor or cigarette or aerated cold drinks since it was aimed at meeting the deficit due to drought conditions.
A day after chief minister Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government imposed heavy taxes on fuel, liquor, gold and cigarettes to mobilize funds to tackle the worst-ever drought in the state, both the CM as well as finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar have come in for widespread criticism for their “ill-advised decision”. Instead of imposing fresh cases, the state government has been advised to tighten the belt and free up and maximize existing funds. The drought situation is grim and only 35-36 per cent of water storage is available. How to sustain for the next eight to 10 months with such a little water availability is biggest challenge for the state government. This time, even the rainfall was low. Since BJP came to power, CM was never serious about mobilizing resources to address the drought; it is high time when he initiated a series of strict measures.
Some think tanks feel that CM should start charity to farmers. Hereon; he should not embark on any foreign tours for at least a year. The state exchequer has already paid a lot for his eight foreign tours. The CM does not go alone, he is accompanied by at least 12 to 30 people and the expense is borne by state-run undertakings. There should be a complete ban on Babus travelling abroad and even New Delhi—at least for two years. Even if the tour is sponsored by the government or a foreign agency, it should be banned, as state has hardly benefited from Fadnavis’s fancy trips to abroad. So far, state BJP has done lots of verbal drama. Now, it’s a time to act or do something, before people show them the doors.