Despite police crackdown, no stopping hooch trade in Amritsar, Tarn Taran

Huge quantities of illicit liquor and many arrests have been reported from the districts on a daily basis. Punjab Police and excise department officials say unemployment, high prices of liquor sold at government-approved shops and mild punitive action under the Excise Act means the illegal trade tempts many
Last year’s hooch tragedy that killed 140 persons has also failed to act as deterrent. (HT file)
Last year’s hooch tragedy that killed 140 persons has also failed to act as deterrent. (HT file)
Published on Mar 27, 2021 09:50 PM IST
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ByAnil Sharma

The illegal business of illicit liquor trade continues unabated in Amritsar and Tarn Taran districts, despite the police and the excise department cracking down hard on it. Last year’s hooch tragedy that killed 140 persons has also failed to act as deterrent.

Huge quantities of illicit liquor and many arrests have been reported from the two districts on a daily basis this year. Organised liquor smuggling cartels have also been busted. In March, Amritsar Rural Police unearthed six illicit liquor-making rackets. Over 525 tonne of lahan (raw material used for producing illicit liquor) and over 50 running stills (equipment) have been seized.

Punjab Police and excise department officials say unemployment, high prices of liquor sold at government-approved shops and mild punitive action under the Excise Act means the illegal trade tempts many. Patti MLA Harminder Singh Gill said Punjab Excise (Amendment) Bill, 2021, was passed during the budget session of Punjab Vidhan Sabha. Police, however, continue to invoke Sections under the Punjab Excise Act, 1914. Ajnala DSP Vipan Kumar said they were waiting for a circular on the law.

“Most accused are unemployed and we book them under the Excise Act. Jobs, especially in border villages, are meagre and many, especially the poor, enter the trade to make ends meet. The lockdown led to loss of jobs and some of them started the illegal business,” said a senior police official. He added that most accused have no background of drugs smuggling.

“Around 99% consumers of illicit liquor are from the labour class, who cannot even afford the cheapest liquor from government-approved wine shops. Those arrested recently had selling one-liter bottle of illicit liquor at 200. A 750ml bottle of the cheapest liquor costs more than 300 at approved shops,” he said.

Another police official said, “Many accused face over 10 cases under the Act. They get bail easily and re-start business. We need stricter laws.”

With the recent busting of a racket in Kotli Sakka village racket, Amritsar police arrested four people, including its kingpin Bhagwant Singh. Bhagwant faces 12 cases under the Excise Act. He was also bailed out and re-started his business.

SSP (rural) Dhruv Dahiya said they were mulling using the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. “Repeated offenders will be brought under the act so that their properties can be attached,” he said.

Police say accused in all six rackets in March had been preparing illicit liquor by using jaggery and yeast. Excise inspector Ajnala Rajwinder Kaur said, “Sometimes, people use alcohol, pills and other chemicals, besides jaggery and yeast for making illicit liquor. This can be poisonous.”

HT spoke to a man in Tarn Taran, who used to make illicit liquor from jaggery. He said the production cost of one-liter bottle of illicit liquor is between 70 and 80, and is sold at between 150 and 200. “Inferior quality jaggery, available at 30 per kg, is used in making illicit liquor.” He added in summers, jaggery and yeast is dissolved in a drum of water for at least seven days; in winters for 15 days. “This concotion, which is called lahan (raw material), is heated in a pot on a still for making illicit liquor.”

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Punjab Police and excise department officials say unemployment, high prices of liquor sold at government-approved shops and mild punitive action under the Excise Act means the illegal trade tempts many

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