A thriving liquor mafia in Madhya Pradesh is using boats owned by disgruntled tribals to smuggle alcohol worth Rs 1.5 million every day across the Narmada into the dry state of Gujarat.
Three big gangs are using more than 30 lifeboats in the tribal-dominated districts of Jhabua and Alirajpur to smuggle alcohol, using both arms and money power in collusion with police and excise department officials, local residents allege.
“Earlier the boats were used to smuggle bullocks and calves to Maharashtra but since Maharashtra banned cow slaughter, the boats are now of no use for me. But some people involved in illegal smuggling are still using it. They have about half a dozen of boats,” said a boat owner, requesting anonymity.
Boats help smugglers avoid police attention
The boats that cost between Rs 4 and 8 lakh help smugglers avoid police attention as no license or identification is required to operate them. HT found some of the boats were made in the United States, Japan and other countries.
Till now, Alirajpur Police have raided the river-borne consignments only twice, in 2012 and 2015.
Illegal trade peaked after excise dept auctioned liquor shops in Jhabua & Alirajpur
The illegal trade is helped by tribal discontent that peaked after the excise department auctioned liquor shops in Jhabua and Alirajpur for Rs 125 crores and 118 crores respectively in 2015, whereas locals prefer toddy.
Over 85% of the district is comprised of Bhils and Bhilala tribes, and they avoid consuming alcohol because it is too expensive.
“From what I understand, the excise department is promoting illegal smuggling in the area. Why are they auctioning shops at such high prices when they know the area is tribal dominated and no one consumes it,” said a senior police officer.
Madhya Pradesh tops the country in seizure of liquor with a total of 51, 646 cases registered in 2014, with the high number indicating a thriving smuggling trade into Gujarat.
But local officials say only 10% of the liquor that passes through the state gets seized.
A person involved in the smuggling said consignments reach Alirajpur district’s Kakarana village, a hub of liquor trade, in the morning and are kept in the ravines for the day.
“Six people guard the liquor with pistols and sharp-edged weapons”
“Six people guard the liquor with pistols and sharp-edged weapons. In the night, they transport the alcohol to Gujarat through Bhuchiya (in Nandurbar district) and by morning the boat returns,” said a former smuggler.
Residents allege the state government has done little to clamp down on smuggling. Raids and seizure of vehicle used for smuggling are few and far between, they say.
“A section of Alirajpur police know what is going on here but the smugglers bribe them. This is also a fact that police never know that the level of trade,” said a person who used to be involved in smuggling.
Some boats are used to transport people to Barwani and parts of Maharashtra and Gujarat but the numbers are very few.
Deputy Commissioner (excise) Vinod Raghuvanshi told HT the department knew of some gangs working in the area. “We have seized boats and liquor in huge quantity from Narmada in last one year. Whenever we get information about the smuggling we act on it,” he added.
3 gangs run liquor smuggling to Gujarat on Narmada river
Smuggling of liquor to Gujarat attracts every tribal living on the banks of river Narmada but three gangs have got a hold in this business. Some tribals tried to enter into the business and transported one or two consignments but due to local pressure of mafias they stopped. A few were trapped by police because a tip-off was given by big illegal liquor mafia.
A person who was once involved in this business and was close to the liquor mafia talked to Hindustan Times and revealed the modus operandi of these gangs operating in Narmada water.
“It all starts from Morakkta and adjoining villages which are in Barwani district,” the smuggler said.
He told Hindustan Times that a “sardar” gang and another gang operates in Barwani and they are very well-connected.
“The gang buys liquor from shop owners in Alirajpur and Jhabua and with the help of pick-ups and small vehicles the “maal” is transported to Dharmrai. The “maal” is kept in the ravines or many a times in lifeboats for a day. The consignment is guarded by armed people who have pistols and sharp-edged weapon,” he said.
Narrating the modus operendi further, he said, that the following night the “maal” is transported to Kakrana village which is on the bank of Narmada river and falls under Alirajpur district.
“Each consignment is worth more than Rs 15 lakh in the local market and about 20 lakhs in Gujarat. From Kakarana , at around 9 pm, the consignment is loaded in two or more lifeboats and then move towards Gujarat. They reach a village in Gujarat at around 2 am and “maal” is delivered,” he said.
“Apart from the Gujarat village Hapeshwar, the liquor is also unloaded in Mondebeli, which comes under Maharashtra. Sometimes, the “maal” gets trapped by either Maharashtra or Gujarat police but “tod” (settlement) takes place in Rs 3-5 lakhs per boat.
After the delivery of consignment, the party from Gujarat pays the money in cash and the boat returns by 8 am.
“Every day or in two days, two boats of consignment is transported by water to Gujarat,” said the person.
“We are making all attempts to control illegal liquor smuggling to Gujarat. If this is true, we will take necessary steps and will make sure that no liquor is transported through Narmada from Alirajpur,” said Alirajpur SP, Kumar Saurabh.