A recent report in The Tribune on a wider investigation being launched into units manufacturing fake international liquor brands in a Ludhiana village attracted much attention. The audacity of the operation, the shocking details, and the fact that it may have had a successful run until the raid on the illicit unit earlier this year came as a wake-up call for consumers. Not perhaps for the Punjab Government. Illicit production and smuggling of liquor are not new to the state, nor is the scale of the illegal business. If it continues to flourish and goes largely unchecked, those holding the reins of the state cannot escape responsibility. Non-participation in an illegal activity cannot be an alibi in itself; not doing enough to curb it when you are in a position to also qualifies as tacit support.
While the Chief Minister was batting for opening of liquor vends during the lockdown, citing huge revenue losses, the illicit liquor mafia and bootleggers had a field day. Huge seizures during the period point to an active machinery, and also how big the business is, and those behind it. The massive shortfall in excise collections has led to a bitter war of words not only between the Congress and the Opposition, but also within the ruling party. The demand for an in-depth inquiry into the functioning of the excise department, complicity, illegal distilleries and cross-border smuggling is not out of place. It will serve little purpose, however, if no attempt is made to find a way around over why Punjab finds it so difficult to manage the quality and sale of the one product that fills its depleted coffers.
Zero tolerance to shortchanging the consumer is but a dream. Not even making a concerted statewide effort to take to task those increasing their capacity to hoodwink is criminal negligence. Punjab cannot afford to treat it as business as usual. A crackdown is called for, along with a stern message from the top.
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