This is nothing short of an organised racket involving crores of rupees flourishing at the shops selling country spirit.
Try to buy a 200ml sachet. The maximum retail price (MRP) printed on it would be Rs 14.13, but you would be asked to shell out Rs 17. Similarly, the 400ml pouch priced at Rs 27.36 is brazenly is sold at Rs 34 at the shops operating within the Patna municipal area.
Interestingly, the rates charged from the customers are uniform at all country liquor vends, hinting at the hand of a cartel behind it. The same situation prevails in other districts as well, though the amount extorted differs from place to place. Just imagine the money involved.
The illegal transactions done under the nose of the excise department could be guessed by the fact that over 70 lakh LPL (London Proof Litre) of country liquor is sold in Bihar every month.
Ashish Kumar Sinha, an RTI activist, who brought the attention of the excise department towards this issue said, "The uniform rate points towards involvement of the officials of the department as well. I wrote to the excise commissioner in July. But not much action has been taken till now. The racket flourishes. If the shops are overcharging and the consumers are willing to pay, the government should revise the rates so that its revenue increases."
Overcharging is a violation under the sales notification issued by the excise department. The rules say that licensees caught overcharging could be fined anywhere between Rs 10,000 and Rs 1 lakh.
Under the Bihar Excise Act, their licences could also be suspended or even cancelled. It is not that the excise department is unaware about the racket. Excise assistant commissioner Nunu Lal Chaudhary, posted in Patna, issued a letter to all excise inspectors and sub-inspectors (SI) on 12-06-2012 saying that he himself has ascertained that the liquor shops were charging more than the MRP.
In the letter he also asked them to inspect liquor shops located within their jurisdiction once every month and ensure action against such activities. Despite the knowledge of the problem and instructions issued by the department, only one licensee, operating a shop near Kargil Chowk has been caught overcharging, that too by Chaudhary himself.
"We know that the problem is there at some places. We have received a couple of complaints also. But it is difficult to catch the culprits because the consumers, who are fleeced, refuse to record their statements against the sellers. We are unable to get witnesses," said Chaudhary.
On the other hand, a source in the excise department said that it would be very difficult to break this 'overcharging cartel' as it is run in connivance with the officials themselves. They encourage the vendors to overcharge.
He also revealed that the money thus gained illegally from the consumers is shared by the excise officials at various levels. Sinha, in his letter to the excise commissioner, has already requested for a probe by the vigilance department or any other independent agency into the matter. Will there be any action?