In a development of its kind, the Jammu and Kashmir government has ordered a ban on visitors, including tourists, entering the state with liquor. The “offence” is non-bailable and could amount to court conviction and a minimum three years in jail.
The order has been issued by the state Excise Department. The J&K Tourism Department has described the order as “unfortunate” and “bizarre” as it would hit the tourism trade hard. Amid this controversy between the two departments, the governor has not intervened so far.
In the recent past, the J&K Tourism Department has spent crores on road shows to get back tourists to the state and had declared 2015 as “Visit Jammu and Kashmir” year. Tourism secretary Farooq Ahmad Shah told the media that the order will affect the footfall of tourists and it was unfortunate. State Chief Secretary B.R. Sharma refused to comment on the issue when contacted by The Sunday Guardian, saying he is yet to see the order.
On 30 January, the state Excise Department issued a notice stating that carrying liquor from outside the state was illegal and a punishable act under Section 50 of the J&K Excise Act.
The notice said that the offence was cognizable and non-bailable. State Excise Commissioner Tsering Angchok said that the decision was taken to keep a check on the bulk transportation of liquor from the adjoining states to Jammu and Kashmir, adding that such bulk transportation has inflicted huge losses to the state exchequer and the ban was necessary.
When asked if the liquor ban order will affect the tourism industry, Angchok said that all brands of Indian made and foreign made liquors are available in the state and “there is no need for any tourist to carry liquor from outside the state if he has come here to enjoy”. “We are only trying to stop the illegal transportation of liquor to the state as it is inflicting heavy losses to the state exchequer,” Anchok told The Sunday Guardian, adding he does not think that the order would have any negative effect on the flow of tourists.
While opposing the ban on the sale of liquor, the J&K government had recently told the state High Court that a blanket ban will lead to an annual loss of over Rs 800 crore in revenue to the cash-starved state, including Rs 500 crore of excise revenue and Rs 300 crore collected by the Commercial Taxes Department.
The Excise Commissioner told this newspaper that if the bulk transportation of illegal liquor is stopped, the state can get another Rs 100 crore as revenue.