At inter-state borders, graft has crossed all limits. Ask truck drivers who now have steered the government's attention to it. At the gateways to Punjab, tea is must and it has a strong taste of dirty money.
The teashops are points where truck drivers collect the receipt for illegal "entry tax" they are forced to pay. Sarup Chand Singla, new chief parliamentary secretary (CPS) of the excise and taxation department, was awakened to it on Saturday.
Singla's raid gave harassed truck drivers the opportunity to expose excise officials manning Punjab's boundary. The CPS made surprise visits to the Sito-Ghunu barrier on the border with Rajasthan, and Dhoomwali gate on the edge of Haryana.
Singla not only caught the officials of his department on the wrong foot but also took feedback about their conduct from the truck drivers. The complaint list was long.
Excise officials ran a network of graft in a nexus with owners of teashops on highways, said truck drivers, adding that they were made to pay illegal tax for permission to cross border. "We are made to collect receipt (of bribe) from teashops," a truck driver told Singla. "The money against the receipt goes to excise officials. We have to pay bribe to avoid harassment."
Singla already had caught a negligent excise official at the border, so he wasn't shocked by the complaints. He had found an excise and taxation officer at Dhoomwali absent from his post. A drunken inspector welcomed him to the office.
The CPS ordered a departmental inquiry against Inderjit Sharma, official absent from duty, but let off the tipsy inspector with strict warning. "The raid was on the instructions of deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal," said Singla. "The state government will do everything possible to improve the conditions for traders."
The raid took the excise officials by surprise. Singla has assured traders of the state that the days of harassment at the hands of excise officials are over.