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April 7, 2000
The Rediff Business Special / Syed Amin Jafri
Pub-less Cyberabad upsets young e-ntrepreneurs
The incongruity is jarring. Driving along the 14-km stretch of asphalt leading to Hitec City on the outskirts of Hyderabad, you come across a plethora of retail liquor outlets. Yet, there's not a single pub in sight where you could sit and enjoy a chilled beer to beat the oppressive summer heat.
Welcome to Cyberabad. This is where US President Bill Clinton regaled industrialists with his oration, and where business delegations from across the world converge looking for ripe investment opportunities.
Pub-less Cyberabad has really upset the young e-ntrepreneurs' apple-cart.
"Pubs should be allowed to make this place look more civilised. It is for the government to take care of the fallout of a liberal policy," says Dinesh Vijapurkar, a senior executive with a multinational company.
Himself a teetotaller, Dinesh feels that the government cannot ignore this issue for long.
Allow bars to serve liquor, cry yuppies
"It has been three years since prohibition was lifted in Andhra Pradesh, yet the state Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu is persisting with his role of the guardian of public morals by clamping a ban on drinking in pubs and restaurants," says a young cyber-age entrepreneur, ruefully.
This has dampened the high spirits of the yuppie circles here. For the ones fortunate enough to be members of elitist clubs in Hyderabad, nevertheless, evenings promise to be more spirited.
Resentment seems to be growing amongst some young professionals over the government's policy of not allowing pubs in Cyberabad.
Opinions range from the serious to the droll on the issue. Asks one executive, "Can Hyderabad ever overtake Bangalore as the software capital, or Bombay as the commercial and financial hub with such an old-fashioned attitude?"
Since prohibition was relaxed allowing the sale of IMFL in the state three years ago, there has been mounting demand for allowing bars and pubs to recommence business.
However, the Naidu government has remained unrelenting.
"There is nothing moralistic about this issue. When the government allows retail outlets to sell liquor, it makes no sense to disallow bars to serve liquor. Is it morally correct then to drink at home?" asks an irate restaurant owner.
More retail liquor outlets now than ever before
Before the imposition of total prohibition on IMFL by the N T Rama Rao government on January 16, 1995, there were 6,582 retail IMFL outlets and bars in the state.
During the 26 months when prohibition was in force, the licences of these shops and bars were cancelled.
Taking a bold decision, Naidu reversed the prohibition policy from April 1, 1997. The government auctioned retail outlets and 3,500 new IMFL outlets were set up after the relaxation of prohibition.
The number of IMFL outlets has grown to around 6,017 in the current year. In the ensuing financial year, the government is contemplating to allow 500 to 600 more shops in the areas where there is higher demand.
This means there would soon be more IMFL outlets than there were during the pre-prohibition era.
Clubs more fortunate than restaurants
Meanwhile, clubs in the city made several pleas requesting the administration for permission to serve liquor to their members. The Excise Commissioner then issued one-day licences to these clubs allowing them to serve liquor on special occasions.
This practice was, however, discontinued in 1998.
The clubs now moved the state High Court in mid-December 1999 for easing the ban to help members usher in the new millennium.
A division bench of the High Court then granted permission to members of the clubs "to consume liquor in the club premises from December 23, 1999 to January 3, 2000."
Meanwhile, a division bench of the High Court comprising Justice Ramesh Madhav Bapat and Justice Ghulam Muhammad also permitted members of a few clubs "to allow consumption of liquor within their premises " for a period of two months from March 10, 2000.
The government told the court that a high-powered committee, set up to evolve norms for granting permits to clubs for sale of liquor in their premises, had submitted its final report on February 4.
The report was under consideration for appropriate policy decision for the new excise year, the government said.
The division observed that "if the government takes a decision to grant permission to the clubs for supplying liquor, this order will not come in their way."
The government sent a circular to all the clubs in the state capital to furnish details of their memberships, the facilities provided, and other particulars. The clubs have duly furnished the required inputs to the excise department.
Of the 32 major clubs in the state, a dozen are located in Hyderabad-Secunderabad. "Our clubs, which are registered under the Public Societies Act, are run on a no-profit, no-loss basis. There are others like Country Club, Family World and Chiran Fort, which are run by private companies," said an official of a club.
There are an estimated 20,000 members enrolled by these clubs. Most of these clubs had bar rooms before prohibition was clamped. Now, these clubs are reopening and renovating their closed bars, in anticipation of getting licences to serve liquor.
These clubs, however, will have to pay heavy licence fees. Presently, 62 star hotels in Hyderabad and other big cities in the state have licences to serve liquor, but they have pay a Rs 1 million as annual licence fee.
Moreover, this fee is likely to be hiked by 25 per cent soon,
However, bars and restaurants have not been fortunate, as they have not been permitted to serve liquor.
Some restaurant owners say that the government's attitude is 'discriminatory'.
Functionaries of the ruling Telugu Desam Party influence the state's policies, they say. "Some of these activists have also managed to get licences for retail liquor outlets," they allege.
"The retail booze outlets will thus not allow their business to be hit as they are raking in the moolah by forming a syndicate of sorts," says a restaurant-owner.
"It is ridiculous to deny permission to bars when you have liquor shops at almost every corner," he adds.
Meanwhile, e-trepreneurs with parched throats and woebegone restaurant owners look yearningly to the government to provide some respite.
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