Meghalaya minister doesn’t know minimum age for drinking alcohol

Shillong, April 16 (IANS) Meghalaya Excise Minister Zenith Sangma Tuesday admitted that he did not know about the legal age for alcohol consumption.

“I have no information on the legal age, but the provision of law will be enforced,” he told legislators, while replying to a cut motion in the assembly moved by National People’s Party (NPP) legislator James K. Sangma.

Excise officials told IANS that the legal age for consuming alcohol in this mountainous state of Meghalaya is 21 years. “Anyone who has attained 21 years can consume alcohol in the state, but the government will punish owner of a wine store or bar if found selling alcohol to anyone below 21 years of age,” an excise official said.

The NPP legislator told the assembly that wine stores and bars were flouting excise norms by selling liquor to minors without verifying their age first. He brought the cut motion to discuss the style and functioning of the excise department — the third largest revenue-earning department in Meghalaya.

James Sangma, the eldest son of former Lok Sabha speaker Purno A. Sangma, also rued the presence of too many wine shops in some areas without taking into consideration the actual population there.

The minister, however, said the government was taking adequate measures to ensure that wine shops are not set up in the vicinity of educational institutions or places of worship as required by the excise rule.

“This rule will be amended to provide for specific distance within which no liquor licence will be issued,” he said. Moreover, he said the government will take steps to ensure that no liquor will be sold or served to those under the permissible age.

Meghalaya has 629 wine stores, 371 outstills, 41 bars, 39 canteens, 34 bonded warehouse, eight bottling plants/brewery/distillery and four country spirit outlets. Zenith Sangma also informed the house that the revenue generated during the last three years has been increasing.

In 2010-2011, the revenue earned was Rs.103.32 crore, in 2011-2012, Rs. 131.30 crore and for 2012-2013, it was Rs.150.88 crore. Further, the revenue earned after the implementation of putting a hologram on liquor bottles exceeded the estimated revenue receipts during 2010-2011, amounting to Rs.103.32 crore against the estimated revenue receipts of Rs.100.19 crore.

In 2011-12, against the target of Rs.124.42 crore, the revenue collected was Rs.131.30 crore while in 2012-13, the department earned Rs.150.88 crore against the revised target of Rs.149.38 crore, he added.

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