Assam: Is Heritage Liquor A Government Gimmick?
The Assam government’s promise of promoting traditional local brews continues to remain a dream three years after the state finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma claiming to bring up products to compete with Goa’s Feni and Russia’s Vodka. Meanwhile, the producers who are attempting to produce heritage liquor are rather upset with the government for the lengthy paper work process and lack of support.
In a promise made in the state’s annual budget for 2016-17, state finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had said that while the tribal brews were healthy and possessed high medicinal values, the government was looking to conduct proper research on these brews, ensure standard manufacturing practices and packaging them in such an attractive manner that these would compete with Feni and Vodka. Sarma had then however had not specified when this dream would turn into a reality.
The policy was notified in May 2017 after amending the Assam Excise Act 2000. The fee for a license had been deliberately kept low at Rs 5,000.
Even though the excise department has kept the fees low, producers feel that the government is not doing enough to support what can turn out to be a great industry.
An upper Assam based producer, Akash Jyoti Gogoi, owner of North East Agro Products and Services, talking to G Plus said, “The government has kept the paper work process for heritage liquor the same as Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL). There is no special support other than a lower fee.” He explained that it’s been quite some time that he had applied for the license but every second day the excise department would require some more or some other paper.
He said that it should have been a single window process but here things are different. The applicants need to submit no objection certificates (NOC) for everything - pollution certificate, food quality report and so on.
He said, “The producers are local, the ingredients are local but still the process requires huge scrutiny creating a huge chaos.”
He said that since the last one and a half years he has been trying to procure the licence but he is facing problems only due to the process. He is trying to produce rice wine and preparing the technology takes time. Gogoi expressed that if everything goes well enough hereafter and if he gets the license his product will be in the market by December.
The government does not have to spend a single penny for these projects, whereas it is expecting to generate huge revenue if the projects are successful.
Again, nothing has been said about the tax in the rules. The producers do not know how much they will be taxed and they hope and suggest that if for two years the product would be tax-free, the production will be better.
“The government keeps saying that start-ups will be extended help, but in reality, if start-up subsidy is taken from the government, the production of such products (heritage liquor) might take around 3 to 5 years,” said Gogoi.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Assam government is trying to develop local industry as a policy, it seems they are not doing enough to help the start-ups. Dreams of many ideas are shown but the reality is different.
Trying best to help heritage liquor producers, claims excise department
Refuting the allegations made by the heritage liquor producers, the state excise ministry claimed that it’s leaving no stone unturned to help these entrepreneurs.
Public Relation Officer (PRO) to the excise minister, Shailendra Pandey, talking to G Plus said, “Excise deals with duty of products and as soon as the heritage liquor rules were discussed it was made sure that the license fees are minimal and accordingly the excise act was amended.”
He claimed that very soon the department is mulling to further amend the excise rules so that the paper work for heritage liquor is no more a lengthy process.
The state excise minister, Parimal Suklabaidya, said that the state government is welcoming all the interested manufacturers willing to produce heritage liquor.
But till now they have received applications from only two parties – one from Ahom traditional drink producers (Xajpani) and one from Dimasa traditional drink producers (Zudima). The excise department cannot help in the production of the liquor as it deals with only duty and not production.
The excise department is also mulling to amend the excise rules so that illegally distilled liquor (Sulai Mod) will be totally banned in the state which will directly increase the demand for heritage liquor, said the excise minister’s PRO.
He revealed that there are around 13 types of traditional liquor available in Assam and if produced and packaged properly, it will be a multi-million rupee industry.