After Punjab CM Amarinder Singh ordered the state police and excise department to crackdown on the illegal liquor mafia on May 16, Jaswant Singh from Amritsar’s Muchhal village was booked under the Excise Act in less than four days. On Thursday, Jaswant was one among those who died allegedly after drinking spurious liquor in Muchhal. Soon after his death, police arrested his wife, Balwinder Kaur, for selling illicit liquor, and it turned out that Jaswant had consumed that same stock that allegedly killed other victims.
“An FIR was registered against the husband of Balwinder Kaur on May 21, 2020. It was part of the campaign launched on the orders of Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh in which we registered at least 90 cases in our subdivision alone. It is a bailable offence and Jaswant Singh got bail in the case,” said DSP, Tarsika (Amritsar), Manjeet Singh.
After managing a quick bail in the case filed on May 21, Jawsant resumed his illegal business, which has now allegedly claimed multiple lives in Amritsar district.
The FIR against Jaswant was one of the 90 FIRs registered in Jandiala Guru police subdivision and the 676 FIRs registered in the whole of Amritsar (Rural) police jurisdiction. The crackdown was ordered by the CM in the wake of a political storm sparked by Congress party MLAs’ attack on then Chief Secretary of state, Karan Avtar Singh, for revenue loss to state from legal liquor trade.
The political turmoil had stared on May 11 with boycott of Karan Avtar Singh by Finance Ministers Manpreet Singh Badal and the matter was resolved in the last week of May with apology by the then CS. While the storm around liquor trade within the Congress had died in less than a month, the clean-up it triggered on CM’s orders ended up making little dent to business of Jaswant Singh and many others like him.
It is only after the latest deaths and an instruction by the CM once again that state police launched fresh raids Friday leading to arrest of at least 8 bootleggers.
About Balwainder Kaur’s arrest, DSP Manjeet Singh said, “Balwinder Kaur was selling liquor in plastic bags. She was not brewing liquor at her home but she was getting its supply from somewhere and selling it further in the plastic bags.”
“Some of them are brewing liquor at home and others are getting supply from within and outside the district,” admitted Tarn Taran SP Gaurav Toora.
Sources said that some legal liquor vend owners are also pushing liquor illegally into this market.
“Illegal liquor is available for as low as Rs 10. It is much cheaper than what you buy from the legal vend,” said Muchhal Sarpanch Rajwant Kaur.
Jatinder Kayal, BJP councillor from Batala’s Hathi Gate locality where 11 people have died in the last 24 hours after consumption of illicit liquor, said: “We have informed police many times that people are into such illegal business. Sometimes police come and arrest them but they are released soon. One of the reasons behind release of accused is that police never inform court that such persons have been booked under the Excise Act in the past too. If the court is informed about the history of the accused then of course it would be difficult to get bail.
But police do not inform the court because such arrests are an eyewash like the ones that happened after recent orders of Punjab Chief Minister. There are local politicians who protect such businesses.”
He added: “What is happening in my locality is that the accused are bringing stock of alcohol separately and they are mixing it with water to make liquor. Now they are not professionals, so they do not know exact ratio to make good liquor. This must be what has happened is the present tragedy, where the ratio of alcohol was more than needed.”
(With inputs from ENS, Chandigarh)
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