Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lok Satta to follow up belt shop closure

The Lok Satta Party and the Mahila Satta today profusely thanked the Election Commission of India for having directed the District Collectors and Superintendents of Police to shut down all unauthorized liquor outlets known as belt shops within two days. Lok Satta President Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan had drawn the attention of Mr. N. Gopalaswami, Chief Election Commissioner, to the omnipresent belt shops in Andhra Pradesh and said they posed a threat to free and fair electioneering.

Talking to the media, Mrs. N. Saroja Devi, State Mahila Satta Coordinator, Mrs. S. Manorama and Mr. V. Lakxman Balaji, party spokespersons, recalled they had launched a State-wide agitation against belt shops for the last two years. Addiction to liquor has played havoc with the health and finances of nearly 75 lakh families in Andhra Pradesh. Against 6,000 odd licensed liquor shops, there are more than 100,000 unauthorized or illegal outlets.

The Lok Satta and Mahila Satta leaders told the media that despite repeated representations and agitations all over the State, the Government had so far dodged the demand for belt shop closure maintaining there are no belt shops. The Government which views liquor as a cash cow would not like to forgo it by shutting down belt shops.

The leaders said that the proliferation of belt shops could be traced to the Government’s determination to maximize revenue from liquor. It conducted auctions for liquor shops and granted licenses to the highest bidder. Those who came forward to pay astronomical amounts for the license promoted and nurtured belt shops to maximize their turnover and profits. “There are thousands of villages in Andhra Pradesh without safe drinking water but there is not a single village which does not have a belt shop that makes liquor available.”

Lok Satta, Mahila Satta and Yuva Satta leaders would be launching a drive to identify the belt shops and draw the attention of Government officials to them. If the officials do not ensure their closure, they would be taking the matter to the notice of the Election Commission of India.

Mrs. Manorama and Mrs. Saroja Devi described the Election Commission of India directive as a victory for the womenfolk of the State. The Election Commission did what the State Government was expected to do. The State Government continued to pretend there were no belt shops at all because admission of their existence amounted to admission of the absence of rule of law.

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