Liquor theft probe: Dushyant’s defence of excise department needs more answers
his Friday remarks–rejecting allegations against excise and taxation commissioner (ETC), Shekhar Vidyarthi, justifying decision to not facilitate the visit of SET to a distillery and his own disagreement with the inquiry findings—left a lot to be answered.Updated: Aug 09, 2020 00:44 IST
Haryana deputy chief minister Dushyant Chautala’s defence of excise and taxation department in wake of adverse findings by a special enquiry team (SET) seems to be on a weak footing. In fact, his Friday remarks–rejecting allegations against excise and taxation commissioner (ETC), Shekhar Vidyarthi, justifying decision to not facilitate the visit of SET to a distillery and his own disagreement with the inquiry findings—left a lot to be answered.
29 permits, 90 passes issued to move liquor
The excise and taxation minister defended the move to successfully close down the liquor vends during lockdown without issuing written instructions after the SET had blamed the ETC for not issuing written orders. Information sent by department to SET, however, showed that 29 permits authorising contractors to procure supplies from wholesale Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) and country liquor godowns and 90 passes for transporting liquor were issued online by the officials in several districts during lockdown. Officials said more than one pass to transport liquor supplies can be issued against a permit.
Data shows that a total of 67,035 proof litres of IMFL, 11,404 proof litres of country liquor and 48570 bulk litres of beer, ready to drink beverages and wine were procured by the liquor contractors from the wholesale godowns during the lockdown. Similarly, 90 passes for transporting liquor were issued online during the lockdown period facilitating the movement of 89,983 proof litres of IMFL, 49,225 proof litres of country liquor, 151969 bulk litres of beer, ready to drink beverages and wine and 474 proof litres of imported foreign liquor (from Gurgaon east only).
“ There was no rationale for physical movement of stocks during lockdown… it is evident that there was huge unauthorized movement of liquor. The complicity of excise, police officials cannot be ruled out. Probe needed as movement of not a single soul except those involved in essential duties was permitted during lockdown,’’ said the inquiry report.
‘Why three distilleries produced liquor during lockdown?’
The SET also questioned why ADS Spirits, Jhajjar, Piccadily Agro Industries, Karnal and Frost Falcon distillery in Panipat produced liquor during lockdown even as others showed zero production. The department also did not provide information pertaining to movement of liquor from wholesale IMFL and CL godowns to retail outlets between March 1 to March 31 despite the orders of the Chief Minister. The information was vital to compare the availability of the liquor stocks till March 31 and after.
‘No bar in the excise act and distillery rules on visits’
While the SET said the department hampered their visit to a distillery, Chautala on Friday defended the move saying since no officer was allowed to visit a distillery as per the Punjab Excise Act, such a demand could not be considered. Excise law experts however said that there was nothing in the Act to prevent visit of officials to a distillery. Former Haryana advocate general, Mohan Jain said that clause 12 of the Punjab distillery rules allowed Financial Commissioner or Collector or any officer authorized by them to inspect and examine a licensed distillery, its premises and warehouses connected therewith. Jain, an excise law expert said distilleries are mandated to render all assistance to officers in making inspection.
1. Permits, passes got issued as the software was designed to be operational till March 31 and cannot be interfered with for security reasons. No vehicle left distillery, explanation of officials sought.
2. Three distilleries were allowed to bottle available raw material in form of mixed chemicals to avoid being wasted. No distillery supplied bottled liquor during lockdown.
3. All information sought by SET for its three objectives was provided.
4. As per distillery rules, no third person can visit a distillery without written permission. Since SET didn’t seek permission for any specific distillery, it could not be given.