Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Booze - officially banned, unofficially flowing

Tourism tip for Gujarat: beer on the beach
The Telegraph June 29, 2005
A glass of whisky can help you appreciate the Mahatma’s legacy better.So thinks Crisil, which has advised the Gujarat government to relax prohibition — in place for 44 years — if it wants to attract tourists.Asked by the state government to prepare a blueprint on improving infrastructure, the credit rating and information services agency has handed in a 700-page report.“Lifting of prohibition would be an ideal scenario from tourism industry perspective,” says the report, titled Blueprint for Infrastructure in Gujarat 2020, prepared by 20-odd consultants and experts from various sectors.The chapter on “tourism and recreation” says in the next five years, the state could attract an investment of about Rs 3,000 crore in the sector, which could go towards developing the Kutch adventure trail, central Gujarat heritage circuit, Gandhi legacy circuit, the Harappan sites of Dholavira and Lothal, Saputara hill station, reservoir-based projects and amusement parks.Only, the government needs to ensure “easy availability of good food and drinks’’ for tourists. Last year, 76.12 lakh tourists visited Gujarat. Only 21,000 were foreigners, the rest being domestic and religious tourists.“We are getting less tourists than neighbouring Rajasthan,” laments Ashwin Gandhi, the head of the tourism panel of the Confederation of Indian Industry in Gujarat. He says he told the government that tourism will get a boost and the state will earn some Rs 1,700 crore from excise duties if it “eases its policy of liquor prohibition’’, as the hotel owners’ associations have been demanding for a long time.But state prohibition minister Amit Shah disagrees. Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bengal are not dry, he points out, but they do not get more tourists than Gujarat.“There is really no correlation,” Shah says. “We are discussing Crisil’s report. But it is unlikely that we will relax the prohibition law. It is an ideological and social commitment which we cannot give up just to earn revenue.”S.V. Som, the managing director of the government-run Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Ltd, maintains prohibition is not a hindrance since “we already have a permit system. Anyone coming from outside the state can easily get a liquor permit’’.But hoteliers, industry and businessmen insist it’s not enough. They want the dry law abolished.“What use is the state’s 1,600-km coastline if a tourist doesn’t get a bottle of beer or his favourite liquor brand at the beaches?” asks Gandhi.He says most Gujarat-based corporate houses hold their annual conferences at Mount Abu (in Rajasthan), Daman or Diu, where liquor is available.Any move to relax prohibition is bound to face resistance from Gandhians and some NGOs, who feel that it will lead to a worsening of law and order.Gandhian activists like Mahdev Bidrohi and Chunni Vaidya say if tourism is to be promoted at the cost of prohibition, they are against it.“We do not intend to import social vices from other tourist destinations, some of them thriving on sex tourism. We do not want to promote such tourism here,” Bidrohi said.Gujarat has been a dry state ever since it came into being on May 1, 1961. It is the only state with prohibition in force.


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