In the 40-day period of lockdown, Punjab has seized 1.81 lakh litres of Lahan (raw material for illicit liquor), a clear indicator of how illicit liquor mafia and bootleggers are trying to have a field day in the state during the COVID-19 pandemic when liquor vends are shut.
The data accessed by The Indian Express reveals that of the total recovery, 1.71 lakh litres has been from Jalandhar (Rural) police district alone.
Incidentally, Jalandhar was the top hotspot district of novel coronavirus positive cases in the state with 88 cases by Wednesday.
The Excise Act cases booked in Punjab during the curfew period are not limited to Lahan and country-made illicit liquor.
During the 40-day period, 56,217 litre of licit liquor, which include liquor being smuggled from one place to another place in violation of the norms, has also been recovered. Another 7,143 litre of illicit liquor, which an excise official said included the spurious one, has been recovered during the curfew period so far.
A total of 878 cases under the Excise Act have been registered across Punjab from March 22 to April 29 and 991 persons arrested. About 22 cases under Excise Act were registered daily on an average in 40 days of lockdown.
Police attributed the spike to huge recoveries under the Excise Act to closure of liquor vends in the state.
Last week, Punjab CM Amarinder Singh had written to Centre seeking permission to allow opening of liquor vends in the state. CM cited loss of revenue while putting forward the demand. The request was, however, turned down by the Centre two days later.
In the current fiscal, Punjab had estimated to collect Excise Duty to the tune of Rs 6,200 crore. Punjab Excise and Taxation Commissioner Vivek Pratap Singh told The Indian Express that Excise Duty was charged in advance before the liquor made its way to vends. On an average, going by the estimated Excise Duty collection for the year, Punjab is supposed to collect nearly Rs 17 crore daily as Excise Duty, and Rs 510 crore monthly. Singh told that while the duty for the liquor which is already lying in vends has already been paid to Punjab government, there has been no new supply for 40 days during the curfew and that revenue loss cannot be made up for. For 40 days, going by the daily average, it is a loss of Rs 680 crore of Excise Duty.
Amid rising bootlegging, the areas in Jalandhar district along Sutlej river have emerged as major brewing grounds for the illicit liquor.
Police say they destroyed and disposed off the recovered raw material for illicit liquor in the Sutlej during the curfew period.
Piara Singh, DSP of Shahhkot in Jalandhar (Rural) police district, said: “There are areas in Shahkot, Mehatpur and Lohian which are located along the Sutlej river. A few days ago we recovered 6,000 litre of Lahan in Baupur village. No arrests could be made as no one was present there. A case has been registered against unknown persons.”
DSP told that the modus operandi of the illicit liquor mafia was to dig a pit along the river bed, spread a tarpaulin in it and mix the raw ingredients of illicit liquor in it.
During the recovery of Lahan along Sutlej, DSP said, the police destroyed and disposed off the mixture in river.
The DSP said the “spike in making of illicit liquor is largely due to closure of liquor vends in the state”.
Maximum cases under the Excise Act have been registered in Jalandhar Police Commissionerate (80) and Jalandhar Rural (72), followed by Ludhiana Police Commissionerate (58) and Patiala (56 cases). Incidentally, Patiala figures in the top five districts of Punjab where maximum cases of novel coronavirus positive have been reported.
Lahan recovery –– (in litres)
October 2019 – 18,302
November 2019 – 4,408
December 2019 – 19,278
January – 8,679
February – 7,075
March – 12,023
March 22 to April 29 – 1,81,874
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