Sukhwinder Singh routinely drives his truck from Ludhiana to Siliguri. He stops every few hundred kilometres to rest and have food. However, the last trip was very unpleasant for him.
“Bhaiya Bihar me kahin nahi mila, 300 km se gaddi chala raha hoon (Brother, I did not find it anywhere in Bihar. I have been driving for 300 km),” he says. Enroute to Siliguri, he could not rest anywhere in Bihar.
Dalkhola, West Bengal was his first stop after 300 km. He intends to take a long rest, and whisky, before leaving.
A labourer from Baisi, Bihar joins Sukhwinder at the liquor kiosk and buys two bottles of country-made liquor for Rs 100. Baisi is a town on the Bihar-West Bengal border.
The liquor vendor says pleasantly, “Please don’t publish our names and let us be. The booze ban in Bihar has been great for our business. Here in West Bengal we can sell both country-made and foreign liquor. And country-made liquor is much in demand these days.”
What Drives Dalkhola
Dalkhola is a grain market in the North Dinajpur district of West Bengal. A small portion of the town juts into Bihar. It is strategically located on the Chicken Neck that connects North-East to the rest of the country. The town lords over the intersection of National Highway (NH) 31 and 34. Purnia, Bihar is 40 km to its south, connected by NH 31. Kishanganj, which is minority dominated and abuts the Indo-Nepal border, is 40 km to its north.
The place is major a transit point and a truckers’ stop. But that is now in the past. It is all set to see a huge influx of cash and new customers, driven by the booze ban in Bihar.
These days the place is all abuzz, even frequent traffic jams, as people from across the border line up at the liquor shops.
Bihar Booze-ban Bonanza
“Many plan to open liquor vends here but are waiting for the assembly elections of Bengal and panchayat elections of Bihar to end,” says Om Prakash Gupta, a liquor vendor in Dalkhola.
“We are aware of the total ban on liquor in Bihar and you can’t rule out that sales will increase here,” he clarifies.
The shopkeepers are betting that Bihar’s police and excise department will implement the prohibition with maximum strictness.
Recently, Purnia administration held a meeting with West Bengal Police officials at Dalkhola and urged them to cooperate with Bihar in implementing the prohibition. The meeting was attended by excise officials too.
“Everything depends on how long the police and excise officials of Bihar remain alert and active. The liquor ban in Bihar has certainly increased the sales here,” says Gupta.
“Since April 2, a day after the ban, we have been witnessing a steady stream of people at the liquor kiosks. Most hide the stuff in the boot of their vehicles, for fear of Bihar officials at the border. Many just drink a lot. The situation is a godsend for this small Bengal town,” adds Gupta.
There are four registered wine shops here. One along the NH 31, which links Assam with Bihar, and three along NH 34, which connects Siliguri to Kolkata. There is also a beer bar next to NH 31.
The strategic stretch that connects Bihar is clearly under-serviced.
“Electione pare amader chandi hobe (After elections we will be rolling in money),” exclaims a liquor vendor here.
All the four Seemanchal districts of Bihar—Purnia, Katihar, Araria, and Kishanganj—share land or riverine border with West Bengal.
“Balrampur of Katihar and Pothia of Kishanganj are indistinguishable from West Bengal. Hence it is not easy to check liquor sale and consumption [across the border],” a police official posted at Dalkhola told HT.
He claims that the liquor ban in Bihar would create a whole new set of problems. Enterprising young men are sure to set up bootlegging networks in the coming days.
Liquor vendors here are already in talks with their influential counterparts in the neighbouring districts of Bihar. “Even MPs and MLAs of Seemanchal are involved in selling foreign and country-made liquor,” said a vendor, without disclosing his identity and without elaborating any further.
Locals say that there is unprecedented enthusiasm among land prospectors too, with many of the rich and powerful planning to set up liquor vends here.
“We have had businessmen from Kishanganj and Purnia looking for land along NH 31, to set up liquor dhabas (highways eateries). Being equidistant from two important Seemanchal towns, many are likely to come here. Local Bengalis with land are now quoting double the rates, at Rs 5 lakh per kattha (1 kattha is about 350 square metres), which was unimaginable a few days ago,” says Sushil Pramanik, a farmhand in Dalkhola.
And in all this, an unprecedented phenomenon has gone unnoticed.
For the first time in history of West Bengal, its citizens are cheering for a chief minister of Bihar. How long this will last, is anybody’s guess.