The Madhya Pradesh government on Tuesday kick-started the process to run liquor shops whose licences were "surrendered" by contractors amid a stand-off between the two sides on reopening the vends.
Around 70 per cent of the contractors in the state have refused to open their liquor vends for well over two weeks fearing poor sale due to the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak. This had put them on a collision course with the BJP government in the state.
The government will run liquor shops till it finds new contractors for them in rebidding, an official said on Tuesday.
The process to reopen liquor shops has begun. Liquor shops would be reopened by this evening (Tuesday) or tomorrow, state excise commissioner Rajeev Dubey told PTI.
Nearly 1,800 liquor shops in MP had been closed by contractors. A few of them have decided to reopen their outlets and not surrendered their contracts, he added.
We need manpower to reopen and run these shops. It is not an overnight affair. We have to first clean and sanitise these shops," Dubey said.
The government's move to run liquor shops came after the MP High Court on June 4 issued an interim direction to contractors, asking them to furnish affidavits within three working days stating if they were ready to reopen their vends.
A majority of the contractors have expressed their unwillingness to reopen their shops, officials said.
A division bench of Chief Justice A K Mittal and Justice V K Shukla had said the government was entitled to auction liquor shops afresh if their contractors don't submit affidavits in the given time.
The stand-off started when the government issued an order to liquor contractors to reopen their shops after coronavirus-induced lockdown was eased last month.
Some liquor contractors did not reopen their shops and instead move the HC, seeking a direction to the government to either revise the terms and conditions of their agreement or recall the entire bidding process for the current fiscal in view of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We got the contract to sell liquor at a very high price for this fiscal (FY2020-21). The government, instead of consulting us over reopening the shops, issued the order on May 19 unilaterally," a contractor said.
It is next to impossible to sell liquor at such a high contract price in MP due to the downturn," he added.
Liquor sales, a key source of revenue for the government, have dropped drastically in the state due to the coronavirus outbreak and its fallout.