M A I N   N E W S

Ponty dominates auctions again
2,818 liquor vends go for 771.70 cr
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, March 20
Liquor baron Ponty Chadha-led syndicates today dominated the Punjab excise auctions, winning the right to run all 3,613 vends, including 2,818 country liquor vends, in three of the seven divisions of the state. Auctions in the remaining four excise divisions have been deferred till March 22.

Though the reserve price for all three divisions — Ludhiana and Fatehgarh Sahib; Patiala, Sangrur and Ropar; and Jalandhar, Nawanshahr and Kapurthala — was Rs 755 crore, they were sold for Rs 771.70 crore.

While excise officials claimed that “auctions were conducted in a free and fair manner”, fierce bidding, as is usually witnessed at such occasions, was missing. Instead “friendly efforts” among participants to outbid one another were obvious.

It is for the first time that auctions were held by clubbing all vends, both country liquor and IMFL, together at a division level and at one venue. This decision of the Excise Department has been opposed by a lobby of liquor contractors led by Mr Mann Singh Garcha, a brother of former Akali Minister Jagdish Singh Garcha.

While the actual bidding for 522 country liquor and 27 IMFL vends in Ludhiana division lasted 52 seconds, it took only 34 seconds to auction 551 country liquor and 217 IMFL vends in Jalandhar division. In Patiala division, the bidding for 950 country liquor and 301 IMFL vends took 50 seconds.

Interestingly, at the end of each auction, successful bidders headed for that section of pandal where Mr Ponty (Gurdeep Singh) Chadha sat with his few supporters and private guards. Though auctions were scheduled to start at 10 am, the process was actually set in motion only after Mr Chadha arrived around 11.45 a.m. It was then that an Excise Inspector started reading out conditions. Ludhiana vends were put to hammer first, followed by Patiala and Jalandhar.

The clerical staff had a tough time in counting the mandatory 5 per cent deposit at the fall of hammer.

The Ludhiana contract was won by United Traders of Mr Chadha, Patiala went to Kamaljit Singh and Company, a syndicate in which Congress MLA from Samrala, Mr Amrik Singh Dhillon, besides Mr Chadha, has a substantial share. The Jalandhar division went to Indian Wines, again a syndicate dominated by Mr Chadha.

The Rotary Bhavan, venue for the auctions, witnessed heavy deployment of the police. The Sarabha Nagar area had been cordoned off, putting locals to inconvenience. While representatives of the print media were permitted inside the auction hall, photographers and cameramen from TV channels had to stay out.

None of the three officers of the rank of the Principal Secretary or Financial Commission, who were supposed to be present during the conduct of auctions, were seen at the venue. The auctions were conducted by the Deputy Excise and Taxation Commissioners of Ludhiana, Patiala and Jalandhar, respectively.


Punjab has no choice’

Liquor baron Ponty Chadha maintains that if the clubbing of vends at the divisional level was not done, the state would have incurred losses. “I can guarantee that if the vends were auctioned in smaller clusters, the revenue would have dropped by Rs 200 crore. I do not know why people are after me. I am a businessman and I have to watch my interests,” he told The Tribune at the venue of the auction.

“Bigger syndicates do not mean that we are pushing out existing contractors. All are there and are doing better than before. All will continue to be in the trade,” he said adding that states and union territories that were not changing with time, would lose revenue.

“See Chandigarh. Of four or five smaller groups, only one is making profit and the others are losing. But if there was a bigger syndicate, this Rs 78 crore trade can be profitable,” he said.

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