Clubs cry for change in archaic laws

Clubs cry for change in archaic laws

The suspension of the excise licence of the prestigious Bangalore Club has brought to the fore the seemingly outdated nature of the Excise Act with members of several clubs asking for its change to suit contemporary realities. 

The licence was suspended at the end of a series of events that snowballed after a seemingly minor fracas involving senior IPS officer R P Sharma and a security guard at the Club.

While Sharma claimed that the guard had assaulted his car driver and filed a police complaint, witnesses said it was the other way round — that Sharma’s personal staff assaulted the guard. 

All this because the guard asked for Sharma’s identity card to prove his membership at the Club. The Club suspended Sharma’s membership pending an enquiry.

Soon after, the Excise department officials arrived at the Club and charged it with violating several provisions of the excise licence. In an unprecedented action, the Revenue department followed it up by suspending the club’s bar licence.

In an attempt to show that the action was not limited to the Bangalore Club alone, the department officials say some 40 clubs will be similarly inspected to see if the excise licence provisions are being followed scrupulously.

While the officer-bearers of Bangalore Club hope for an amicable settlement after talks with the Finance Secretary and the Deputy Commissioner, Bengaluru Urban, larger issues pertaining to the CL-4 licence conditions and its relevance have surfaced. 

There are 74 clubs with CL-4 licence—19 in East, 25 in West, 12 in North and 18 in South. The DC (Urban), who is the licensing authority, said the Excise officials found that alcohol was being served at multiple counters and also in areas not specified in the licence blueprint. 

An Excise department official said several clubs in the City had similarly violated the CL-4 conditions.

“If the Club is spread across five acres of land, the excise lease fixes a designated area for liquor counter and also the area where alcohol can be served. The clubs with CL-4 licence cannot serve liquor in the entire club area, including the card room, gambling room, or lawn. The blueprint specifies where alcohol can be served. Such violations were found at many clubs in the past. These clubs follow their byelaws strictly when it comes to granting membership. Why don’t they follow licence conditions,” asked the official.

As per the Excise Act, officials can inspect a licensed premises for non-duty paid liquor, duplicate liquor and other violations. Excise officials may inspect the premises anytime on credible information about an offence under the Excise Act.

In the case of the Bangalore Club, the Excise officials have registered a case for sub-leasing two restaurants under CL-4, serving alcohol outside the area specified in the licence and serving liquor on multiple counters. 

Members of various clubs say it is high time that the archaic provisions of the Excise Act be changed to fit in with contemporary realities. When the Central government is on an exercise repealing outdated laws, the Excise Act too needs a relook. 

P C Balachander, a senior member of the Bangalore Club, said, “The conditions of the licence are impractical. I feel the Union Law ministry, which is identifying archaic laws to repeal, should also look into this. The states must change these rules. The rules say sale of liquor shall not be within 100 metres of a school or temple. The intention is to keep the adolescents from such places. As far as clubs are concerned, these rules become irrelevant since clubs are situated in a secure location. We all should sit and discuss rationalising these rules,” he said. 

Another senior IPS officer, B N S Reddy, who is director (Vigilance KSRTC) and also the president of Indiranagar Club, said, “A club is a recreational centre for members and their families. If you are giving licence to a club, it may not be fair to impose too many restrictions. A pragmatic approach can solve such problems and there is nothing wrong in having a relook. There is always scope for change and these issues can be ironed out through dialogues about the existing rules.” 

Another senior member of reputed clubs like Century Club and Golf Club, Anand Sirur, said, “In my 50 years of club life, I have hardly come across people misbehaving after a drink. A club is a place where members choose a place to sit and have a drink. If a designated place is fixed for members to drink, then what is the difference between a bar and restaurant and a club. In Golf Club, after a round of play, we sit at a place and have a drink, maybe discussing about the game. The hard-and-fast rule should change and moreover how can a few bureaucrats and officials decide where members of a club should sit and drink.” 

A senior member of the Bangalore Club told Deccan Herald, “The November 5 incident may not be the only reason for the action taken by the district administration. Even earlier, there have been attempts of high-handedness by bureaucrats and politicians. Some two years ago, a legislature committee recommended scrapping of dress code in clubs. It was around this time that the Excise department officials inspected all the clubs looking for violations. Nothing happened after that and there has been no inspection since then.” 

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