The liquor mafia in Punjab made a killing during the lockdown, and even prior to that, passing ethyl neutral alcohol (ENA) and liquor that came as cheap as Rs 250 a bottle as premium brands such as Johnnie Walker Blue Label and Black Label, Glenlivet 12 and 18 ,Chivas Regal 18, Black Dog, 100 Pipers and Grey Goose.
This came to fore after Punjab Police unearthed an illegal distillery in Ghanour on May 13 and a case dating back to February in which investigations continue and main accused are yet to be arrested.
Patiala SSP Mandeep Singh Sidhu has now constituted a supervisory committee comprising SP City Varun Sharma, SP Investigation Harmeet Singh Hundal and Ghanaur DSP Manpreet Singh to probe and arrest the accused. Among six persons booked in the case is a Congress sarpanch considered close to senior party leader who has distanced himself claiming that he was not aware that sarpanch was involved in the illegal distillery operation.
The unit was being run from an abandoned cold store near Rajpura and the illicit liquor was being bottled under brand names of Royal Stag, Masti Malta, Lajawab Sofia and Raseela Santra.
Police seized bottling machinery, empty bottles, 35 ENA-drums, holograms, labels of different brands and other packing material in heavy quantity. A case under sections of Indian Penal Code, Excise Act and Disaster Management Act was registered on May 14 at Shambhu police station against Dipesh Kumar, a resident of Rajpura, Harpreet Singh of Thuhha village, Amrik Singh of Khanpur Khurd, one Bachhi, Amit Kumar, a resident of UP and owner of the cold store.
While forming the three-member supervisory committee, the Patiala SSP directed that it will submit a weekly progress report in the case.
Prior to lockdown, a case under various sections of IPC, the Punjab Excise Act and the Essential Commodities Act was registered against Harpreet Singh and Amit Singh Parmar in Jodhan police station in Ludhiana Rural police district on February 13, in connection with filling cheap liquor 999 into bottles of premium brands.
The investigations in the case continue. Jodhan SHO Jasvir Singh said the “main accused” in the case were yet to be arrested. SHO said that the case was initially being investigated by the Punjab Bureau of Investigation. “Currently, we are investigating the case,” he added.
Amid lockdown, last month five persons were arrested in Khanna police district for running an illegal distillery in Bahomajra village and seized 320 boxes of illicit liquor being bottled as First Choice, 93 boxes as 999 Whiskey, 19 drums of ENA spirit (each containing 200 litres) which would have 950 boxes of illicit liquor. Besides, illicit liquor worth 1444 boxes which was ready to be filled was also recovered, along with 8000 empty bottles, 80 bags of bottle lids and 250 litres of scent and orange color and two big and small machines to manufacture illicit liquor and Rs 5.82 lakh were also recovered. Police also recovered distillery paraphernalia, a Toyota Innova, one canter and a tractor trolley. Three more arrests were made taking the total tally of accused arrested in the case to eight, said Khanna SSP Harpreet Singh.
Earlier, The Indian Express had reported in the 40-day period of lockdown, 1.81 lakh litres of Lahan (raw material for illicit liquor) was seized. A total of 878 cases under the Excise Act were 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.