In its crackdown against liquor mafia, the Punjab government has recovered 34,083 litres of illicit liquor in less than a month. Further, a whopping 8.32 lakh litres of lahan (raw material mixed for distillation of illicit liquor) and 1.16 lakh litres of licit liquor meant for smuggling has also been recovered as per figures available till Friday.
The drive, titled Operation Red Rose, has led to registration of 3,490 cases under the Excise Act, arrests of 2,664 accused. The clean-up operation against illicit liquor production and inter-state smuggling comes at a time when the state is staring at an annual loss of over Rs 600 crore in terms of non-collection of Excise Duty due to curbs to battle Covid-19.
With massive recoveries every day, the number of cases under the Excise Act have been increasing manifold.
Ropar police in a joint operation with Himachal Pradesh counterparts on Friday arrested five persons and seized 2 lakh litre of lahan, in a ten-hour long operation in the tough forest terrain of Himachal villages of Majri and Dabt.
Seven working stills (daru ki bhattis) were also uncovered in the joint operation, which was carried out by 22 police teams having seven personnel each in the villages located around two kilometers from state’s border with Himachal Pradesh, said Ropar SSP Swapan Sharma.
Sharma said the two Himachal villages, along with the area around them, were notorious for liquor and drug smuggling. The smugglers take advantage of the forest cover and the lack of access in the tough terrain to sneak from Himachal Pradesh into Punjab with their hauls. In the last 5 years, 26 cases in Punjab and 38 cases in Himachal have been registered against people hailing from these areas, said the SSP.
Fazilka SSP Harjeet Singh said similar operation was carried out in the villages in Rajasthan right next to border with Punjab last month by Khuiyan Sarwar SHO from Punjab side and Hindu Mal Kot SHO from Rajasthan and huge recoveries of were lahan made.
Of more than one lakh licit liquor — which is manufactured in licensed distilleries, but sold illegally without paying Excise Duty — that was seized during the operation, major quantity was the one which was smuggled to Punjab from outside the state.
The drive was launched on May 17, days after liquor vends opened in Punjab, after nearly two months long curfew and lockdown.
As per Punjab Excise and Taxation Commissioner Vivek Pratap Singh the liquor vends remained closed for over a month and the likely maximum loss was around Rs 600 crore.
On an average, Punjab had been collecting Rs 17 crore Excise Duty daily and the likely loss figures are based on that. Singh said that the exact quantum of loss would be clear only after the end of the fiscal. In the current fiscal, Punjab had estimated to collect Excise Duty of Rs 6200 crore. Singh said state government was also likely to get Rs 140 crore in its kitty due to imposition of Covid cess on liquor imposed from June 1. “The sales may also increase. So, the exact loss due to lockdown would be clear only after the end of the fiscal,” added Singh.
All praise for the “Red Rose” campaign, Singh said, “It is a continuous process and we have achieved good results. The campaign would be intensified in coming days.”
In the beginning of last month, The Indian Express had reported that during the 40 day curfew/lockdown period Punjab had seized 1.81 lakh litres of lahan and 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.
Analysis of official data under the latest drive reveals that till Thursday — after relaxations in the lockdown and opening of liquor vends — 134 cases under the Excise Act have been registered daily on an average in 26 days.
“A statewide campaign named ‘Red Rose’ was launched by CM Punjab and the status of the campaign is being reviewed daily. I am happy to share that campaign is progressing very well all over the state. We will ensure very strong and effective action against liquor smugglers, and liquor distillers indulging in illegal acts,” said Punjab Director General of Police Dinkar Gupta.
In a correspondence to all Commissioners of Police and to the SSPs in the state on May 16, the DGP noted that “due to acute economic and financial stress all over the world and India arising out of curfew/lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus, the state government needs to mobilise all possible revenue. Thus it cannot afford any loss of revenue on account of smuggling of liquor from outside the state or on account of illicit distillation of liquor or bootlegging”.
The correspondence noted that CM had directed strong action against “illicit distillation of liquor, bootlegging and smuggling of liquor from bordering states”.
Referring to illegal liquor factories unearthed in Khanna and Rajpura, the correspondence directed police chiefs to have a video conference with DSPs and SHOs “to make it absolutely clear to them that if any illegal liquor factory is found operational in his area of jurisdiction, as in Khanna and Rajpura recently, he will be liable to be shifted out and legal/departmental action initiated. He will also become ineligible for SHO and public dealing postings in the future.”
It also directed to put on notice SHOs of bordering police stations to ensure no smuggling of liquor into Punjab takes place. Out of the 1.16 lakh licit liquor that has been recovered under the drive so far, 50,274 litre has been recovered from Mohali district alone. Mohali Senior Superintendent of Police Kuldeep Singh Chahal said due to close proximity of Mohali with Chandigarh, bootleggers indulge in smuggling. Chahal, however, added that recoveries in Mohali were more as compared to other districts because Mohali was sort of transit district and liquor meant for smuggling to other districts was also seized at Mohali in good quantity.
In each district, respective Deputy Commissioner and Senior Superintendents of Police supervise the joint drive involving police officials, excise and taxation department officials and officials of other government departments.
A senior police officer said that DCs and SSPs, who are the “prime movers” have been asked to monitor the drive personally and provide a strong backing to ensure that the officials implementing in the field were “not made to bow to any kind of political or other pressure”.
“This operation has been a huge success. Earlier (during curfew), there was shortage of staff, but now adequate police force and other officials are available,” said Additional Excise and Taxation Commissioner Navdeep Kaur Bhinder. “Under the operation, abandoned places and buildings are being checked to check any illegal production,” said Bhinder.
On inter-state smuggling, she said price difference was the reason behind smuggling of the liquor into the state. Fazilka Senior Superintendent of Police Harjeet Singh said during the campaign apart from joint operation at border villages with Rajasthan counterparts, Fazilka police destroyed more than one lakh litres of lahan where accused could not be identified. He said that deserted places, areas adjoining rivers and water channels were among the places from where such lahan was found. More than 13,000 litres of lahan has been also seized in Fazilka in the cases where accused were identified and the lahan made the case property, said the SSP.
On inter-state smuggling, Fazilka SSP said a man Karamvir alias Gaggi who was indulging in “smuggling since last two years and was responsible for dropped sales of Abohar area” was caught with 311 litres and a case registered at Bhavwala police station. The SSP said another person Anand Kansal was arrested in a case registered on May 25 in connection with diverting 77 litres of liquor from Rajasthan for illegal sale in Abohar area.
“Both Karamvir and Anand Kansal have legal vends in Rajasthan for sale of liquor there. Difference in rates leads to smuggling of liquor from other States to Punjab,” said the SSP.
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