Bars and shop owners holding genuine business license to sell alcohol in Denchi in Pemagatshel have been complaining that a few shops here operate as bar and sell alcohol even without having a bar license.
They say such an operation is not only illegal, but is also eating into their business. They added that their business has dwindled with the increase in the numbers of unauthorized alcohol sellers and bars in the town.
A bar owner, Sonam Choden, attributed the recent decrease in her sale to the increasing number of shops that sell alcohol without license.
“There are a few shopkeepers (whom I don’t want to name) selling alcohol without license. I have neither seen any proper signboard saying it’s a bar nor seen any officials entering there for inspection. We are just like a guard guarding a bar and others are openly selling it outside,” she said.
The 31-year-old bar owner added, “We bear taxes and they enjoy all the privileges. We live in a small community and don’t complain, but they should understand and be responsible. Such issue should be addressed.”
Similarly, Dechen Zangmo, who operates a bar cum restaurant in Denchi since 2007, said such illegal liquor business also affected them. “The only little income that we make is through the sale of alcohol,” she added.” “We hope the concerned authority could have taken necessary precaution and actions such as sudden inspection to address the issue.”
The owner of Dendu Tshongkhang, Kezang Jamtsho, 45, meanwhile, described the scenario as something where alcohol are sold behind closed doors, everyone in the town is aware of it, and yet nothing is being done about it.
A few with licensed alcohol businesses say sometimes it often leads to fights and arguments among the neighbors while dealing with such issue. They say that those shops lock up their house and go hiding upon getting pre information on the visits/inspection or borrow license for presentation purposes, while some sell liquor under groceries’ license.
And according to bar owners like Kezang, even complaining about such issue to concerned authority had yielded no result.
“At times complaining to the Tshogpa, who is responsible for looking after the affairs of shopkeepers located in the area, fails to yield any action due to the close social knit. They feel it’s the responsibility of the government and concerned authorities to investigate such issues,” Kezang said. “They are paid and so they should know how to do their job well.”
While a few licensed bar owners say that frequent inspection is required, which includes once or twice a year by trade officials, the others say the trade office should take action rather than asking for written application.
“I identified some of the illegal liquor sellers and approached the trade officials, but I was asked to submit an application. How can they assure it will be confidential?” asked the owner of Samten Tshongkhang. “They can question people and why can’t they see numerous liquor bottles piled up in front of their shop? They can easily study the case.”
A bar owner seeking anonymity said liquor agencies, who are into supplying liquor, are also the reason for encouraging illegal liquor business in Denchi. “The agents are aware who have licenses and who don’t, but they still supply it. If things continue this way, it’s high time to close our bars,” she said.
Meanwhile, Denchi Tshogpa Jamtsho Wangdi said they haven’t heard or receive any complaint on this matter.
An ICT Technical Official at the Department of Trade in Samdrup Jongkhar, Wangchuk, said they make a point to go on inspection at least once a year and during the license renewal period.
He explained that information might have leaked among the shopkeepers because they never inform their inspection schedule and only on certain occasion like the license renewal period people are informed beforehand. “This may be the main reason why people are not caught if there are some who are selling liquor without licenses. So far we have not heard of anyone selling without license.”
The official said they have received verbal complaints which they cannot authenticate unless it is a written one.
“Some of them may complain because of personal grudges. If we consider it and make an inspection and upon reaching up, if it turns out otherwise, it is useless,” he reasoned.
Phuntsho Choden from Pemagatshel