‘Have you seen what happened in Bihar’: SC tells Punjab on illicit liquor PIL
The Supreme Court told the Punjab government to take preventive measures against illicit liquor, saying, “We should not dig the well when the fire is there”
The Punjab government has issued orders to hold the local police personally liable for any illegal spurious liquor unit found operating in an area and any lapses to act against offenders will lead to departmental action, the state government told the Supreme Court on Thursday.
The government listed the “deterrent” steps to prevent manufacture, sale and transportation of illegal liquor in an affidavit filed on orders of the top court.
“Have you seen what has happened in Bihar,” said a bench of justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar, referring to the hooch tragedy in three villages of Bihar’s Chapra area which has claimed at least 31 lives.
“We should not dig the well when the fire is there,” the bench added, asking Punjab to take preventive measures by cracking down on the manufacture of spurious liquor without waiting for a tragedy to strike.
The court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by two persons - Tarsem Jodhan and Hargopal Singh who complained that a booming business of spurious liquor was going unchecked in the state leading to the loss of lives of innocent people.
Also Read: Shock, grief shroud villages after Bihar hooch tragedy
On December 5, the court ordered Punjab to come out with a circular that could have a deterrent effect on police inaction and hold them accountable if any illegal liquor manufacturing units are detected.
Senior advocate Ajit Kumar Sinha along with advocate Ajay Pal informed the court that this order had been complied with and shared a copy of the circular issued on December 8.
“A circular has been issued to all field units to ensure action against the manufacture, smuggling, and sale of illicit liquor shall invariably lead to registration of a criminal case under the relevant provisions of the Punjab Excise Act, 1974 or the Indian Penal Code.”
It further said, “Any default in this regard shall invariably entail departmental action against the delinquent officer/official.” The circular also made it obligatory on part of the head of the field unit to fix responsibility for any lapse or negligence in the registration and investigation of crime.
After going through the state’s affidavit, the bench of justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar said, “We will monitor the steps taken” and posted the matter for hearing on February 10.
About 122 persons died due to the consumption of spurious liquor in Tarn Taran and Batala in 2020.
The state government also said that to wean away persons from consuming spurious liquor, the Punjab excise department has introduced a cheap variant of countrymade liquor. “This liquor is going to be a healthy substitute for illegally brewed homemade liquor,” the state said adding that field officers have been asked to provide the requirement of such liquor for supply to areas where illicit liquor is sold. The state also promised to fill vacancies of all excise inspectors in the state.
In August 2021, the state government said 34,767 criminal cases were registered for violations of the Punjab Excise Act and 1,270 units manufacturing illicit liquor were destroyed during 2019-21. Later, the government revised the figure of manufacturing units destroyed to 1,357.
The court found these figures “shocking” and asked if the sum of ₹10 crore collected as penalty from liquor manufacturers could be used for raising awareness against spurious liquor.
The state in its latest affidavit said that an inspector general of police-rank officer has been nominated as nodal officer to ensure speedy and expeditious investigation of cases registered under the Punjab Excise Act, 1914. The petitioners said the steps taken are not adequate as the real culprits who manufacture illicit liquor are not arrested. The court agreed to consider this aspect on the next date.