Clean up liquor trade

Punjab needs to weed out criminals, fake brands

Clean up liquor trade

IT’S an irony that Punjab, known for high liquor consumption, has been falling well short of its excise revenue targets year after year. The key reasons cited for this glaring anomaly are rampant bootlegging and smuggling; large-scale tax evasion; and the tussle among politicians having big stakes in this business. A link between the state’s liquor trade and Sunday’s attack on the house of a Chandigarh hotelier has surfaced. The hotelier’s brother — said to be the intended target of the shooting — is one of the region’s leading liquor contractors, owning vends in Punjab as well as Chandigarh, besides bottling plants and a brewery.

The Tribune has been running a series, ‘Booze scam’, exposing various facets of the rot in the liquor trade patronised by politicians. One startling discovery has been the manufacturing and sale of fake foreign brands. Even as the Punjab government allowed home delivery of liquor during the lockdown in a desperate bid to boost sales, some malpractices came to light during raids by excise officials. An illegal distillery was found being run from a cold store near Rajpura, allegedly by a sarpanch, who is a partner in several authorised vends. A probe is in progress to ascertain the role of such distilleries — and also the government-approved ones — in manufacturing spurious liquor using ENA (extra neutral alcohol) that was passed off as premium brands and sold at vends or delivered on the doorstep of the unsuspecting consumer.

The onus is on the Punjab Police, who are separately investigating the Chandigarh incident, to connect the dots in coordination with the excise authorities. The cut-throat rivalry among stakeholders for controlling the liquor trade, the possible involvement of gangsters running extortion rackets — all aspects need to be probed thoroughly. Political will is a must to ensure that the booze business does not become a happy hunting ground for criminals. The Punjab government, which has now imposed Covid cess on the sale of alcohol, should proactively curb the illegal practices so that the revenue leaks are plugged and the customer gets what he pays for.

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