On the banks of the Sutlej river in this border district, more than 90% of the 600 residents of Nihange Wala Chuggee village have a case or two pertaining to manufacture, sale or trade of illegal liquor registered against them.
In true tipsy tradition, the government seems to have left the residents to their own fate and no rehabilitation or awareness programmes against the menace seem to have been initiated in the village. Lack of livelihood opportunities seems to have perpetuated and strengthened the move to the illegal activity.
When the police come raiding to stop the activity, there have been instances of people throwing the illicit liquor into the Sutlej and jumping in the waters to evade arrest.
This 'culture' of dealing in illicit liquor has been rampant in the majority of border villages since independence, sources said. The menace is prevalent in Dulchi Kee, Kamala Wala, Habib Wala, Old Baree Kee and Chandiwala. Thousands of residents of these villages are apprehended for manufacture and trade of illicit liquor, a year.
Women of Nihange Wala Chuggee village have also been known to help their men in the crime and the presence of a nexus between traders, makers and some police officials cannot be ruled out.
"If a family's male member is jailed for some time, the woman carries forward the trade," a police official said on the condition of anonymity.
Admitting that manufacture and trade of illicit liquor was rampant in border villages in the district and especially at Nihange Wala Chuggee, Ferozepur DSP Vibhore Sharma claimed that frequent raids had been carried out to curb the crime.
Deputy commissioner Manjit Singh Narang claimed that the administration would soon launch an awareness programme and ensure residents are better employed.
"A team of counsellors will be sent to to help out the inhabitants. A concerted effort will be made to ensure that the quality of life improves and villagers get basic amenities," the DC claimed.
"The administration must launch a massive awareness as well as rehabilitation plan to save residents of Nihange Wala Chuggee from the trade that will ultimately spell doom," said Satish Kumar, a social activist.
"The SAD-BJP government must take steps to improve the civic and economic situation of residents of border villages so that they are not forced to take to crime and illegal activities for survival," said Congress MLA Parminder Singh Pinki.
The Inverted Logic
* Residents claim to have taken to the crime due to lack of economic resources, as their only source of income, their land holdings have dwindled over generations due to division of family assets
* It costs nearly Rs 700 to prepare 100 litres of illicit liquor. It is then sold at Rs 40 a litre, earning Rs 4,000 a profit of nearly 500%
* People making or dealing in illicit liquor are often booked under Section 61/1/85 of the Excise Act. The maximum punishment ranges from 3-6 months, says a lawyer.