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Posted at: Feb 10, 2018, 1:19 AM; last updated: Feb 10, 2018, 1:19 AM (IST)TURF WARS

Fierce liquor lobby has little regard for law

Established contractors, who don’t want new players to find feet in business, resort to violent acts to strengthen their hold
Fierce liquor lobby has little regard for law
Two SUVs belonging to a wine contractor were torched at Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur. Tribune file photo

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, February 9

The well-entrenched lobby of liquor smugglers is not taking lightly to new players, which is resulting in bloody turf wars of the kind witnessed in Dera Baba Nanak on Tuesday.

Interstate smuggling of liquor is a multi-crore venture with most of the big players being politicians or their henchmen, who operate with impunity in connivance with the police and excise authorities.

Needless to say, the common man is always at the receiving end. Genuine buyers are often mistaken for smugglers and assaulted or even worse killed, while the accused roam scot-free, thanks to their well-connected masters.

Contractors suffer huge losses as smugglers buy cheap liquor from other states and sell it in Punjab. They thus resort to deputing men to keep an eye on people ferrying liquor. And whenever, the “monitoring” team comes across smugglers, a confrontation takes place often leading to bloodshed.


Issuing bills a problem

In May 2017, four persons impersonated as cops from the CIA staff raided a factory at Dashmesh Nagar. Complainant Gurjit Singh Shinh alleged that the accused thrashed an employee alleging that illegal liquor had been stored in the factory.

“On one hand, the government was running an awareness campaign ‘Jago Grahak Jago’ appealing to the people to ask for bills on every purchase. On the other, if anyone insists on a bill at a liquor vend, he is threatened by the staff. Whom do we turn to,” rues Manjit Singh Mehram, a former PAU employee.

AETC Rajpal Singh says whenever a genuine raid is conducted excise officials are always present. The government fixes the minimum sale price of liquor, but there is no provision to issue bills for its purchase, he claims.


Interstate smuggling

Interstate smuggling is a big issue in this district so much so that SHOs are posted in the district as per the wishes of the liquor lobby.

In many cases, employees of a contractor raid a place without informing the police or the excise officials, leading to clashes.

Lakha Singh of Ballo village died during a face-off between villagers and a team of contractors on November 28. A police team reached the village only when residents detained the contractor’s men. Incidentally, nothing was recovered from the house raided by them. Later, both parties struck a compromise.

Six months ago, the henchmen of a liquor contractor opened fire at a car on the Bathinda-Muktsar road. They had chased the car occupants mistaking them as peddlers.

Similarly, under pressure from a contractor, the Nathana police arrested Lal Singh of Sema Kalan village, who was carrying just two bottles of liquor. More than 1,000 cases under the Excise Act were registered by the Bathinda police last year.

The influence of the lobby can be gauged from the fact that despite shortage of police personnel in the hinterland, 300 policemen have been attached with contractors since March last year.


Cops: Excise policy flawed

In October, 2016, Manish Luthra (28) of Jalandhar was chased and stabbed to death near his house for opposing the sale of alcohol in his locality. Illicit sale is rampant in the area. Recently, the Bihar police seized three truckloads of illicit liquor allegedly smuggled from Kapurthala and arrested an accused.

Police Commissioner Praveen Sinha says some major flaws in the excise policy need to be plugged to discourage liquor smuggling. He recently transferred two SHOs following their involvement in the illicit business.

Jalandhar is estimated to be a Rs 358-crore liquor market with Rs 220 crore generated from the city alone. Jaspinder Singh, Deputy Commissioner, Excise, says though the region has not witnessed any bloodshed, lack of coordination among enforcement agencies is a major concern for them.


Invading territory

Contractors selling liquor in the city in an illegal manner to exhaust their quota is the main cause of animosity between businessmen. The rural belt is also notorious for bootleggers who sell homemade brew to tipplers at a fraction of the cost of IMFL.

Although no major clashes were reported in the recent past, in January, employees of two contractors clashed over the sale of liquor, leaving one with bullet injuries.

Jagroop Singh, one of the contractors, told the police that New Amritsar area was serviced by his vend, but his rival had been selling liquor there illegally. Both had a verbal duel on this issue in the past. Later, their men clashed with each other.

Recent Events

  • June 13, 2017: The goons of a local liquor contractor thrashed Ghagga resident Baljeet Singh and damaged his car on the Samana-Bhiwanigarh road, thinking he was ferrying liquor. Five car-borne assailants armed with sharp-edged weapons rammed their vehicle into the victim’s car and attacked him with baseball bats and swords. Baljeet received minor injuries. “On checking, no liquor was recovered. The assailants fled telling me that it was a case of wrong information,” Baljeet told the police.
  • June 18, 2017: Henchmen of liquor contractors rammed their vehicle into a Swift car coming from Cheeka (Haryana), dragged out its two occupants and attacked them with rods, resulting in the death of one and serious injuries to the other. The police registered an FIR against unidentified persons and added murder charges against six accused after a lot of hue and cry by locals. In this case, victims Satnam Singh and Kaka Singh were ferrying 30 boxes of country-made liquor. The police booked the victims for smuggling, but registered a case against unknown persons for the attack. Satnam later succumbed to his injuries. Besides, such goons regularly raid marriage palaces and other venues to check whether the liquor has been bought from the area vend or not, say sources in the Excise Department. Most of the vehicles used are SUVs which sport “excise contractor” or “excise” stickers on the windscreens.
(Inputs from Gagan K Teja, Harshraj Singh, Gagandeep Sharma, Rachna Khaira and PK Jaiswar)


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