The armed forces are looking to clip the liquor quota of troops in a bid to thwart misuse as well as illicit sale of the subsidised alcohol to civilians, a move that comes at a time when the ration facilities of military officers has been curtailed.
Defence personnel get liquor cheap from the government’s canteen stores department (CSD). In the pre-goods and services tax era, they were exempt from the sales tax applicable in different states and because of this the cost of alcohol in these canteens was lower than the price in civilian wine shops. Liquor has even now been kept out of the purview of GST.
The not-for-profit canteen stores typically work on operating margins as low as 1%, while this figure can vary anywhere between 8% and 18% for private retailers.
“There is a plan to reduce the existing quota of liquor of different ranks in the army forces. This would help in checking the sale of alcohol outside the forces to civilians and there is also a feeling that such high quantity of liquor is not required any more for personnel,” Army sources told.
According to the proposal, the allocation for serving and retired officers would be reduced from the existing ten bottles to five bottles, while serving junior commissioned officers would get only four bottles instead of the seven they receive now.
If the plan gets implemented, the biggest cut would be in the quota for the jarmy who will get only two bottles a month – three less than what they are getting right now, the sources said. Army officers said there was a time when a majority of personnel in the forces were fond of drinking but the trend has changed in the last decade.
“My own quota remains unused at a stretch for several months and is used only when some colleague wants extra bottles of liquor for a party or a get-together,” a brigadier-rank officer said.
The officer said with so much of the liquor quota remaining unused, the bottles meant for the defence personnel end up in civilian markets and cause losses to the national exchequer.
Subsidised canteen liquor is a major draw for civilians as it is considered to be unadulterated and costs Rs 400-500 less than the price for comparable goods in civilian shops.
ALCOHOL CONTRIBUTES 26% OF CSD’S SALES
According to a study last year, alcohol is the highest-selling category and contributes 26% of the CSD’s sales, followed by toiletries.
The canteen stores department is also planning to make a large number of changes to check the misuse of facilities meant only for defence personnel as it is reducing the stock to be procured by the unit-run canteens, which sell these subsidised goods to military personnel.
According to the directives issued by the quartermaster general branch of the Army, there would be a limit on the grocery articles also as the allocation is considered to be too high at present.
The quota of bathing soap, washing powder, noodles, soft drink, tea, coffee, ketchup, baby milk powder, shampoo, mustard oil and desi ghee is expected to be cut in a big way to prevent their sale outside.
Over the years, the CSDs have emerged as one of the biggest retail chains in the country. They have over one crore serving and retired personnel as well as their families as their direct customers across the country and provide all kinds of articles to military personnel in even the remotest corners, including Ladakh and the Northeast.
The string of about 3,900 stores made gains of Rs 236 crore in the 2014-15 fiscal year, emerging as the country’s most profitable retail chain ahead of several big-name private players.
Source: INDIA TODAY