Category: Money, Business and Commerce

The original entry in Hobson Jobson can be summarised as below

  1. Origins: Persian for “strong water”
  2. Original meaning was the business of distilling and selling alcohol. The word passed on to the excise collected on the business. Thus today “abkari system” refers to the government taxes and policies on the liquor business.
  3. According to a Letter from Board of Revenue (Bengal) to Government, 1790, “Abkarry” was defined as Tax on Spirituous Liquor

I found the word still being used, here are some of the modern references

Indian Express, 1997 :

KANNUR, July 20: A K Antony, leader of the United Democratic Front in Kerala, has called for a CBI inquiry into the alleged Abkari payoff scandal following reports that many high-level officials and politicians in the State were involved in the issue. He said that an impartial inquiry was necessary to restore the credibility of the politicians and to unearth the ‘whole truth’.

The Hindu, March 13th, 2003:

“Cabinet approves the abkari policy”
The Cabinet approved the abkari policy for the coming financial year, which, among other things, proposes sanction of more beer and wine parlours to the State Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC).

Sikkimonline, 15th April 2007

“A Double for Excise Abkari”
The DoP has created history of a dubious kind by notifying 2 Excise Commissioners in Excise Abkari Department of Govt. of Sikkim, as opposed to the usual 1.

Entry in Banglapedia

Abkari¬† a Persian term meaning ‘strong water’. Spirituous drinks were popular in Bengal even in ancient times and as a high demand item it was always an important source of government revenue. The Mughal Government had an Abkari Duftar to regulate production of spirituous liquors and collection of tax from manufacturers and dealers. It became the Abkari Department during the Company period and the Customs and Excise Department subsequently. But the term abkari in the sense of tax on spirits and liquors still persists.

The production and distribution of liquors was a monopoly of the state ever since 1773. Partly for revenue and partly for cultural reasons the colonial government’s conscious policy was to encourage the consumption of abkari. Consequently, the consumption of liquors increased so much that in the late nineteenth century every village market had a corner for the sale of spirits. Both Hindu and Muslim reformists demanded the total abolition of abkari. In response to such popular reaction, the government adopted the policy of restricting the production and import of abkari and raising taxation. The policy of abkari restriction rather than total abolition of abkari is still operative. [Sirajul Islam]

Please do send in more references of “abkarry”


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