Nepal cracks down on alcohol sale for ‘vice control’

September 28th, 2008 - 3:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Sep 28 (IANS) As part of the new Maoist-led government’s drive to remove the “widespread vices in society”, Nepal has begun cracking down on the sale of alcohol and tobacco goods in the Himalayan republic, closing duty-free spirit shops at the sole international airport and confiscating bottles stowed away in passengers’ luggage.The internal revenue department issued the first notification late last week, warning shops that stock essential goods for daily use, like groceries, that they have till Nov 17 to comply with the new rules or face stiff punishment.

Earlier, liquor was available freely in shops throughout Nepal and there was no drinking age limit.

However, the new budget that was tabled by Maoist Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai this month promised to stop the unregulated sale of alcohol.

Only licensed sellers can now sell alcohol. However, even they need to renew their licence for the current financial year.

Department stores will have to construct separate rooms to display their spirit and tobacco products.

Ordinary shops selling essential goods will either have to acquire a licence and build a separate room for alcohol and tobacco products or return such goods to the manufacturers.

Duty-free liquor and tobacco products can be obtained only from licensed bonded warehouses. The buyer would require the permission of the foreign ministry, which has been told to issue such approval only to diplomats or customs-related officials.

Soon after the notification, flying vigilance squads appointed by the government began raids at the India-Nepal border check points and the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu.

Strictly enforcing the proviso that a passenger can carry only up to 1.5 litre of liquor and a single carton of cigarette, airport squads have started opening the luggage of passengers to confiscate additional purchases.

Over 315 bottles have been confiscated so far, triggering angry altercations between airport officials and unwary passengers.

In Morang district in eastern Nepal, raids had led to the confiscation of 1,245 litres of hooch, Nepal’s state media said Sunday.

While shopkeepers, caught unaware by the diktat, were yet to react, the state-run National Trading Ltd became the first casualty.

The state agency, which employs over 500 workers, had to shut down its duty-free shop in the airport that did brisk business.

It has an estimated Nepali Rs.500 million worth of foreign liquor and tobacco goods in the duty-free shop, a stock of Nepali Rs.300 million with consignments worth an additional Nepali Rs.200 million lying in the customs check post in Birgunj town on the India-Nepal border.

Though the agency has begun frantically looking for alternatives, like fuel and machinery spare parts, it has to make fresh investments for the switch over.

Already afflicted with a bank loan of nearly Nepali Rs.400 million, there is little chance of it being able to raise fresh capital in a hurry.

The move to regulate alcohol sale comes after a drive to close dance bars, where the government alleges nude dances are performed and prostitution flourishes and cabin restaurants and massage parlours suspected to be a front for prostitution.

In addition, the government has also slapped an 11 p.m. deadline on restaurants and night clubs in the capital and a stiffer 10 p.m. and 9 p.m. deadline in Lalitpur and Bhaktapur districts, respectively.

Periodic raids have also begun on Kathmandu’s casinos to ensure that Nepalis, who are prohibited from gambling there, are not flouting the law.

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