The excise department which is caught in a game of compromises between the political bosses is now worried about the fate of commissioner Sameer Sharma. The fear in babudom is that after the ouster of anti-corruption bureau's (ACB) special investigation team (SIT) chief K Srinivas Reddy, Sharma could well be next in line to be shunted out.
According to sources in the excise department, Sharma could be eased out as he doesn't suit the needs of the excise lobby that is now calling the shots in the government. Earlier, chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy reportedly gave in to the transfer of Srinivas Reddy under alleged pressure from PCC chief Botsa Satyanarayana who convinced the Congress high command that the raids on the liquor lobby was selective and should be put on hold. And, according to sources, Sharma's removal was also part of the compromise deal. Sources, however, hinted that Sharma too wants to leave his current job.
While excise minister Mopidevi Venkatramana Rao appears keen to retain Sharma at least till the new liquor policy is formulated, sources close to the minister claimed that the CM was seriously considering transferring Sharma. When asked by TOI, Mopidevi said: "General transfers are due to happen next month, but the transfer of commissioner is not under consideration. I think it is impractical to go for his transfer when the new excise policy is being formulated."
While the excise policy is slated to be announced next month and the government is studying the models adopted by other states, what may have got the excise lobby's goat is Sharma's suggestion to have a system that gives government maximum control on liquor sale and also minimises the clout of private dealers.
Officials favouring curbs on liquor syndicates are understood to have proposed a cap on the licencing fee so that dealers need not resort to selling liquor at rates more than the maximum retail price (MRP). They are also in favour of government selling quality liquor at cheaper rates so that poor consumers are not drawn to illicitly distilled liquor. These suggestions apparently have not gone down well with the politically powerful liquor lobby.
Apart from the politics before and after the ACB raids, the government which talks of curbing liquor consumption has itself enhanced the target on liquor sales. The sales target that was around Rs 12,000 crore, including VAT for 2011-12, has been increased to Rs 16,000 crore for the fiscal year 2012-13. At the same time, the government has allocated Rs 50 crore to promote prohibition.