When Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Sangeeta Kalia told Haryana health minister Anil Vij at a meeting of the district grievance committee at Fatehabad on November 27 that it was the state government which was facilitating the sale of liquor, she wasn’t off the mark.
The argument between the two over the unlawful sale of liquor in Fatehabad district was symptomatic of a problem which probably has no long-lasting solution. But what got sidetracked during this melee was the issue of widespread sale of pharmaceutical intoxicants (medical “nasha”) and narcotics in the district.
The health minister and the IPS officer, who was then the district police chief of Fatehabad, were at loggerheads over the illegal sale of liquor in the district. Expectedly, the IPS officer was shifted out of Fatehabad to a low-key assignment in the India Reserve Battalion (IRB).
The fact remains that licensed liquor contractors in the state resort to unfair trade practices, often in collusion with the excise and police officials, selling liquor from unauthorised outlets in villages and suburbs. These unauthorised outlets supplement the sale of the licensee who can run only a limited number of licensed liquor vends and sub-vends as per the excise policy. Collector, excise, Haryana, Amrita Singh, however, said the allegations of unauthorised liquor outlets being run at the behest of the excise officials were baseless.
LI QUOR DELIVERY AT DOORSTEP
The unauthorised outlets running in villages and suburbs are known as “khurdas” and literally ensure delivery of liquor at doorstep. And the soft excise law ensures that the perpetrator gets bail immediately and in certain cases, is let off by simply paying a penalty.
As per the Punjab Excise Act (applicable to Haryana), the state government sets limits for the sale of liquor by retail and wholesale in an area. Anything sold beyond the licensed liquor vends and sub-vends amounts to an offence, excise officials said. The Fatehabad police in 2015 (till November 30) have registered 1,499 cases under the Excise Act confiscating around 31,000 bottles of licensed liquor sold in an unauthorised manner.
“First information reports (FIRs) lodged against those selling liquor from ‘khurdas’ is an eyewash. The station house officers (SHOs) would register a few cases just to give an impression that they have tightened the noose around violators. But it does not help. The magnitude of the problem is too large,” said a police official who did not wish to be quoted.
While Vij went hammer and tongs at Kalia for the failure of the police to control the illegal sale of liquor, he conveniently forgot the issue of rampant use of pharmaceutical narcotics in Fatehabad. The seriousness of the health department to check the problem can be gauged from the fact that for about a year, there has been no full-time drug inspector posted in Fatehabad.
Even since the then Fatehabad drug inspector, Suresh Chaudhary, went absconding in a graft case, no fresh appointment was made. Consequently, the medical “nasha” in Ratia and Jakhal become more rampant with chemists freely selling it. Even non-governmental organisation Shaheed Bhagat Singh Youth Federation, which raised the intoxication issue in the district grievance committee meeting, had primarily pointed out to the medical “nasha”.
When asked, Fatehabad chief medical officer (CMO) Ashok Chaudhary said they were aware of the drug proliferation in Ratia, Tohana and Jakhal areas of the district, which share borders with Punjab. “Earlier, there was no drug inspector in Fatehabad and the Hisar drug inspector was looking after the work of Fatehabad and Sirsa. Since Thursday, we have posted full-time drug inspector Raman Kumar Sheoran. We are sure that action would be taken against those selling pharmaceutical drugs illegally,” he said. Source said there were more than 200 chemist shops in Ratia and 90 in Tohana and Jakhal where one can easily get intoxicant drugs like corex, proxyvon, alprazolam and diazepam which cannot be sold over the counter without a doctor’s prescription.
Newly posted drug inspector Raman Kumar Sheoran, who joined on Thursday, said he had come to know that Ratia, Tohana and Jakhal were in the grip of intoxicants due to unbridled sale of drugs formulations. “Action will be initiated against medical stores who sell such medicines and drugs without prescription. I will also publicise my mobile number to get public support,” Sheoran said.
NO TO FATEHABAD BLOOD
Health officials in Hisar said they were reluctant to accept blood donated from Ratia and Jakhal in Fatehabad and Dabwali, Kalanwali in Sirsa due to rampant use of drugs.
Hisar deputy CMO said: “The primary reason for not accepting blood from these areas is drug addiction. Though the health department conducts tests on donated blood to check for HIV and hepatitis, we are generally reluctant to accept blood sent from these areas.”
The district police have set up a check post at Alika village close to the Punjab border, which has gained notoriety for being a hotspot for drug proliferation. “Youngsters and hooligans both from Haryana and Punjab villages would assemble in the evening at this point near the bridge over the Ghaggar river and consume medical nasha. The area was littered with bottles of intoxicant cough syrup,”’ said sub-inspector Mahinder Singh, who mans the Alika check post.
“Rampant sale of medical nasha and sale of liquor from grocery shops is troubling us. The youth are the biggest casualty and womenfolk in the village feel unsafe,” said Alika sarpanch Sahab Ram.
Sarpanch of adjoining Pilchiyan village Mitthu Singh endorses his claims. “There is no such problem in Hisar villages. It is because our villages border Punjab where there is unchecked flow of medical nasha,’’ Singh said.
Fatehabad superintendent of police OP Narwal told HT that more than liquor sale, it is the medical intoxication which was the cause of concern. For Narwal, who remained in oblivion for the past decade serving at inconsequential positions, his first posting as the district police chief seems to have him motivated.
“We have stepped up the pressure to curb illegal sale liquor and check medical nasha. Special teams from district headquarters have been constituted to raid khurdas. Our priority is to restore public confidence,”’ Narwal said.