Political patronage powering liquor mafia’s free run in Hry?

Every day, truckloads of liquor are smuggled from Haryana to other states, particularly where prohibition is enforced, in connivance with the authorities, writes Pawan Kumar Bansal

About four decades ago, nearly one hundred persons died and an equal number were blinded by consuming spurious liquor at Narwana and Kalanwali towns of Haryana. The issue was raised in Lok Sabha by MP Maniram Bagri resulting in resignation of then Excise and Taxation Minister, Balwant Rai Tayal and suspension of then Narwana DSP Sitaram Sharma  who had tipped off the  owner of liquor  vends about impending raid and he had escaped after destroying the stock of spurious liquor. Since then, liquor mafia has emerged very powerful and trade is being run in a foolproof manner.

The practice of smuggling of liquor, illegal sale of liquor and pilferage of  liquor  in a clandestine manner from the godowns, where the licensee had stocked their liquor, as well as from some godowns, where the Excise Department had kept the seized stock of illegal liquor, continued even during the Covid-19 pandemic period when there was complete lockdown in the State

The Special Enquiry Team headed by IAS officer TC Gupta, constituted to probe the allegations of sale of liquor in a clandestine manner and pilferage of liquor from the godowns of licensees which was smuggled outside the state during the Covid-19 lockdown period, has mentioned how it has happened with the connivance of the police and the Excise Department. Although the constitution of above team was also mere eye wash as it has neither the power to summon any one or seize the record under the CrPC.

It is learnt that the Excise Department had refused to supply the information sought by the team. Highly placed sources said that a powerful minister in the cabinet of Chief Minister Manohar Lal had taken all the relevant record from the office of Excise and Taxation Commissioner. The SET has recommended deeper probe and action against at least a dozen senior offices of the Excise Department for their dubious role, in its report submitted a year ago but the government is yet to take any follow up action.

There are about one dozen distilleries and bottling plants in the state which manufacture liquor. Under the very nose of police and Excise Department officers, trucks of liquor are taken from these distilleries and liquor is smuggled to other states, particularly, Gujarat and Bihar, where it fetches the smugglers good price due to prohibition enforced there while depriving the state of excise duty.

Taking huge money at the time of fixing of price of liquor being manufactured in the distilleries is other source of corruption in which politicians also get major cut. Other source of corruption is supply of liquor from the wholesale vend to retail vends across the state. Here also a large quantity is brought without issuing permits and that goes for smuggling to other states. Selling  home-made liquor is  not much sought after business now a days as it involves the risk of deaths due to spurious liquor and this job is left for small bootleggers who operates at local level under  patronage of police and Excise Department authorities .

The plight of Kulbir Malik, driver of a liquor contractor of Panipat, is an eye opener and it   has all the ingredients of a Bollywood potboiler. The employer of Kulbir Malik, Narender Narwal  allegedly ran business to the tune of about Rs 100 crore taking vends in his name. Now the case is being investigated by three agencies, Panipat Police, Enforcement Directorate, and Income Tax authorities on the intervention of Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij, whom the complainant Kulbir Malik has met seeking justice at his Public Durbar held at Ambala. He was allegedly framed in false cases by the Panipat police to help his employer. Home Minister Anil Vij told Tehelka that he too was shocked to listen to the plight of Kuldip Malik adding that he will ensure that the probe reaches its logical conclusion.

Panipat District Police Chief Shanshak Kumar Sawan said that a case has been registered under sections 34, 420, 467, 468, 471 and 506 of IPC against liquor contractor Narender Narwal, Anil Paruthi and Manu Paruthi on basis of a complaint lodged by Kulbir Malik, which is being investigated from all angles including  the role of those police officers who had allegedly framed Kulbir Malik in false cases. The investigation process is also monitored by the DGP Parshant Aggarwal..

Panipat incident has also exposed the working of Taxation Department as how the employer of Kulbir Malik formed dummy firms on basis of fake documents. Spurious liquor tragedy in the area claiming lives of a dozen persons led to registration of case against employer of  Kulbir Malik.

Police arrested Kulbir Malik for selling spurious liquor saying that vends from where liquor was purchased are in his name. According to the FIR, Kulbir Malik pleaded innocence explaining that he was merely a driver drawing monthly salary of Rs 15,000, but nobody listened to him. He was beaten up in police custody and was allegedly forced to sign blank papers and was forced to admit own that he was the owner of the vends.

Poor Kulbir Malik was arrested and sent to jail and released on bail in June last year. He ran from pillar to post meeting senior police officers pleading that he was innocent and framed in the case but no one listened to his plight.

He met Home Minister Anil Vij in mid of November and Vij took drastic action. He rang up DGP Parshant to send Panipat Police team to Ambala where the complainant was sitting with him and take him to Panipat in police  protection and register the case against the liquor contractors. Anil Vij also spoke to Neha Yadav, Deputy Director of Enforcement Directorate, Chandigarh for probing the case from money laundering angle. Vij also spoke to Income tax authorities for taking action Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala did not pick up the phone.

Now, come to the sale and smuggling of liquor during the Covid-19 period. The SET  had observed that in the neighbouring Punjab, recently, a huge quantity of unaccounted liquor had been detected in the premises of a distillery the owner of which also has a distillery in Haryana. Although CCTV cameras have been installed in all the distilleries, liquor manufacturing units and the wholesale licenced premises of L-1 and L-13, but shockingly no SOPs  have been issued by the Excise Department regarding the CCTV, camera’s operations, monitoring and storage of feed  thus leaving the scope of manipulation and tampering by the vend owners to facilitate in spiriting away liquor from the distillery without paying the excise duty.

The SET has observed that it cannot be ignored that smuggling of liquor from neighbouring states especially Punjab through Haryana and illegal sale of  liquor had been taking place in the state especially during the lockdown period mainly because of the flaws in the functioning  of the Excise Department, non-implementation of its own instructions, lack of monitoring  and in some instances  possible collusion or negligence on the part of some excise officials as well as police officials .