The seamier side of alcohol’s political economy is on display, with Haryana recommending action against excise and police officials after they were indicted by the Special Enquiry Team for their role in an alleged liquor scam. A vigilance probe has now been ordered to identify and punish the culprits. The racket involved the theft of liquor from excise godowns during the pandemic lockdown, but details have surfaced about their being located on premises that belonged to someone who was into the illegal trade of the brew and had been provided protection and arms licence by the police. While it will be too early to go into the veracity of charges, what is undeniable is the need for a thorough probe to ascertain the political patronage that facilitated such activity.
In Punjab also, the police and the excise staff are being blamed for the Majha tragedy that has claimed over a hundred lives. While the state government has ordered the formation of two special investigation teams, a parallel magisterial probe has also been ordered. Police officials have been asked to furnish a detailed report on the investigations, recoveries, arrest of bootleggers, FIRs lodged and the statements of victims and witnesses. A list of the excise officials deputed in these areas and a record of the production and ownership of the distilleries have also been sought.
The liquor business had gone underground during the lockdown. Shutting down of shops and vends affected not only sales, but also the revenue of states. With hotels and bars out of bounds, sales seem to have got diverted to black alleys, that too of spurious stuff. The tragedy in Punjab is being blamed on the leakage of de-natured alcohol from distilleries. There is no reason why Punjab, like Haryana, should not bring erring officials and racketeering distillery operators to book. It may require political will, but the loss of lives should be reason enough to ensure that the governments act resolutely.