Barachatti police station SHO Chetna Nand Jha is a worried man.
The premises of the police station he heads in Gaya district, about 100km from Patna, is crammed with vehicles seized while smuggling liquor to the dry state from neighbouring Jharkhand and the record rooms are overflowing with bottles of the banned beverage recovered from bootleggers.
“We are running short of space in the police station. Seven rooms, meant to keep records and designed to serve as rest and detention rooms, have already been occupied by bottles of Indian made foreign liquor (IMFL). Heaps of country liquor sachets are rotting in the open, spreading unbearable stench around,” rues Jha.
“The space in and around the police station now looks more like a junkyard of SUVs, autorickshaws, cars, jeeps, trucks and motorcycles seized during anti-liquor drive. We are looking for another premises, even on rent, to handle the unending flow of seized vehicles. I have written to the Gaya SP for disposal of liquor-related seizures,” he adds.
His counterpart at Rajauli in Nawada district, adjoining Koderma of Jharkhand, talks of the “unique problem” the police stations of bordering districts have been exposed to, post prohibition in Bihar.
The continued crackdown on liquor, however, seems have done little to dissuade addicts and fun-loving youths from consuming alcohol. They often traverse the border to Jharkhand in groups and assemble at line hotels on the national highway (NH)-2- better known as Grand Trunk road- in the evening to get their favourite brands served with snacks of their choice.
No wonder, roadside eateries in Jharkhand are leaving no stone unturned to make the best of the ban, even as line hotels in Bihar, barely half a kilometre away, wear a deserted look.
“Dhabas on Dobhi-Chouparan stretch of NH in Jharkhand deck up with colourful lights and wake to life with vehicles from Bihar coming to halt early evening, each day,” says Subhesh Singh, owner of one such eateries.
The recent Supreme Court order restricting operation of liquor vends within 500 metres from highways has come as a setback, but not for those having ‘tact’ and ‘contact’ with shop owners.
“These days, liquor is available at a premium at line hotels, as it is carried to dhabas by youths on call in nearby villages,” says Manik Saw of Chordaha village in Jharkhand, adjacent to Bihar border on NH2.
“The line hotels could be deceiving. At a glance, they appear to be simple dhabas, serving meals and soft-drinks. But, once you strike a deal, you will be taken to a secluded place and served liquor,” said Suresh Chaurasia, owner of a betel shop besides a roadside eatery.
The under-construction Chatra-Gaya stretch of the road that merges with NH2 at Dobhi, is posing the most serious challenge to the total prohibition regime in Bihar.
Tucked away in difficult terrain and covered with forest and hills, Maoist-affected villages of Gaya have turned big destinations for liquor mafiosi to produce Mahua-based brew, which is carried by bootleggers to different cities of Bihar through village roads.
Severe shortage of staff and resources often come as a stumbling block for police stations of bordering districts to conduct regular raids in remote villages, a fact, which has triggered illegal liqour trade ona huge scale where a Rs 1000 pack sells at over Rs 3500. “The wrong people-businessmen with political contacts- are the only gainers, besides corrupt policemen who let pass five trucks with bottles, but detain just one for record. That happens for a fee”, said a wayside eatery owner.
“We generally carry out only intelligence based raids. However, we have to be contented with dismantling makeshift breweries, as those involved in it usually manage to get away with the areas being inaccessible for vehicles,” says a senior police officer.
Apparently, ignoring Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s appeal to restrict supply of liquor to Bihar districts, the Jharkhand government has increased quota of liquor being sold through authorised vends in Koderma, Chatra, Hazaribagh and Garhwa districts-all bordering Bihar.
“The quota has been enhanced by about 2% to 3% in view of increase in demand. But, they are for sale in Jharkhand only. Any attempt at illegal trade is dealt with sternly. Liquor of various brands and country liquor worth over Rs 1 crore, being sent to Bihar, were seized in Chatra alone last year,” a senior officer of Jharkhand’s excise department said, adding that they always cooperate with their Bihar counterpart to smash the illegal trade.
Notwithstanding issues of contentions between the two states, hospitality sector of Bihar has had to bear the brunt of total prohibition. “Corporate engagements for hotels in Bodh Gaya have reached its nadir. There has been about 60% decline in occupancy post liquor ban, even as Ranchi has turned out to be the most preferred destination for those in Bihar for marriage purposes,” says president of Bodh Gaya hotels association Sanjay Kumar Singh.