Sources in the industry said excise department officials and prominent bar owners — as well as management officials of Kolkata’s premier clubs — have discussed the possibility and begun preparing for opening the door to tipplers.
In Assam and Rajasthan, liquor is being served in restaurants, though standalone bars are shut. The Assam government had issued a notification on August 14, allowing IMFL on-shops and club on-shops to reopen from August 16. They can function till 9pm on weekdays, but have to stay shut on Saturdays and Sundays. In Rajasthan, too, only restaurants with liquor licence have been allowed to serve liquor.
An owner of a restaurant-cum-bar in Kolkata said excise officials in Bengal had indicated that the state could also go the Assam and Rajasthan way, tweaking the notification to leave out the word “bar”.
“Restaurants with liquor licence are likely to get permission to serve liquor during permitted hours,” the owner added.
There are around 350 bars in the city; the number in the state would be over 650. The move could breathe life into the restaurant industry that is struggling to stay afloat. With liquor accounting for 50% of revenue in most restaurants, restrictions on liquor sales has not only led to a drop in revenue from liquor itself but also food, as footfall has dropped.
Excise officials have also communicated with club authorities and pointed to a tentative resumption of liquor service from September 1. “There has been some discussion in this regard. We are waiting for the notification,” a club official said.
With its coffers depleting fast following outflow of funds to deal with the pandemic, the state desperately needs to augment revenue, and liquor is a key source for not just Bengal but several states. Though liquor sales had resumed in early May, the levy of an additional sales tax of 30% (popularly called ‘Covid Tax’) to garner revenue did not pay off, as sales plunged. While beer sales nosedived by 85%, IMFL sales declined 30% between April and July.
The state has now decided to discontinue this tax from September 1, which TOI reported on Thursday. Instead, a slab-based duty will be levied. Sources in the excise department said there would be 16 slabs for beer and 22 for IMFL. The new tax structure will be based on ex-brewery price for beer and ex-distillery price for IMFL, not on maximum retail price (MRP).
(With inputs from Sujay Khanra)