The BJP-led government in Maharashtra has revoked the action that the Excise department had launched against two Marathwada-based distilleries accused of taking part in alleged illicit liquor frauds. Sugar baron Ratnakar Gutte owns one of the distilleries being probed. NCP sitting MLA Babanrao Shinde’s family controls the other. Gutte had unsuccessfully contested 2014 Assembly polls from Parbhani’s Gangakhed as candidate of BJP-led alliance.
Last October, state Excise Commissioner V Radha had permanently revoked the licences of both distilleries for their alleged role in separate illegal liquor nets. Her department had also lodged criminal complaints in both cases.
On January 10, state Excise Minister Chandrasekhar Bavankule issued separate orders ordering restoration of the permits and cancellation of the Excise Commissioner’s orders. The Sunday Express possesses copies of both orders. The government’s intervention comes at a time when proceedings in related matters are on in Bombay High Court.
Bavankule has remarked that his orders were “interim in nature” and will be subject to the outcome of court matters. Both firms had filed appeals to the minister’s office challenging the department’s action. While deciding the appeals, Bavankule has gone with evidence put forth by Excise officials in justification of the action against the firms, but has cited “long-term social impact that a permanent closure of these units may have on the backward Marathwada region” as the main reason to upturn the revocation.
Production was shut in both distilleries for three months; no further penalties have been imposed in the minister’s orders.
“The firms should pay up the full extent of evaded duty on the goods,” Bavankule has observed. “The department must continue the legal process in criminal complaints filed in this respect.”
In Gutte’s case, licence of his molasses-based distillery — Gangakhed Sugar and Energy Pvt Ltd (Parbhani), which has a capacity of 60 kilolitres per day — was revoked on October 21, 2016. The department accused the firm of “illegally supplying ethanol or rectified spirit for manufacture of illicit liquor”. The firm was also charged with “unauthorised transportation of intoxicants, unauthorised sale of duty-evaded intoxicants and violation of norms”.
On September 6, 2016, the department’s enforcement division claimed that it had intercepted a tanker (MH04 DS 9808) containing 20,000 litres of duty-evaded rectified spirit from Pathardi. Investigators said driver and cleaner were arrested and revealed that the consignment had originated from Gutte’s distillery and was being transported to an illicit alcohol maker, a contention Gutte has denied.
Gutte contended that “all processes in the distillery were carried out under the supervision of the excise officials”.
On October 17, 2016, V Radha had revoked the country liquor licence of Osmanabad-based Vitthal Distilleries Private Limited, run by Shinde’s family, in a two-year-old case where Excise investigators had accused the firm of “illegal sale and disposal of 23,227 litres of country liquor.” The firm challenged the contention. The minister sided with the investigators but granted relief, making similar grounds as in Gutte’s case.