Introduced ‘healthy substitute’ for illegally-brewed homemade liquor, Punjab govt to SC

The Punjab government has told the Supreme Court that to wean away consumers of illicit homemade liquor from its use, the government has introduced, in the current excise policy, a cheap variant of country liquor having 40-degree strength, which is a “healthy substitute”.

The state government, in a counter-affidavit, said the Excise Department has been regularly carrying out massive enforcement drives against manufacture and use of illicit homemade liquor/spurious liquor.

The state government’s response came after the Supreme Court expressed concern at increasing illicit liquor trade in the state.

In the affidavit, the state’s Department of Excise and Taxation gave details on the steps to eradicate the menace of spurious liquor. It said to wean away illicit homemade liquor consuming sections of the society from its use, the state government has introduced a cheap variant of country liquor having 40 degree strength.

“This liquor is going to be a healthy substitute for illegally brewed homemade liquor. The field officers of the department have been entrusted with the task of giving their requirement of 40 degree country liquor based on ground inputs so that the same can be made available in illicit liquor prone areas in near future,” it said.

The affidavit said awareness through local print and electronic media including cable TV will be started on war footing level and wherever necessary, social media will also be used for the purpose.

The state government said the campaign against illicit distillation of liquor will be started by spreading awareness regarding ill-effects of homemade illicit liquor by using means, including popularising the department’s already existing reward scheme so that more and more informers come to share the information regarding such manufacturing and sale.

The state government, in a separate affidavit, said an Inspector General rank police officer has been nominated at the state level to monitor investigation of cases registered under the Punjab Excise Act, 1914. A circular has been issued to all the field units to ensure action against manufacture, smuggling and sale of illicit liquor, which shall invariably lead to registration of a criminal case under the relevant provisions of 1914 Act or the Indian Penal Code, it added.

The state government said any default would entail departmental action against the delinquent officer/official.

On Thursday, the matter came up for hearing before a bench of Justices M.R. Shah and C.T. Ravikumar.

Senior advocate Ajit Kumar Sinha, representing the state government, along with advocate Ajay Pal, referred to the steps taken by the authorities in the matter and said the state has implemented all directions issued by the top court.

Counsel further added that a circular has been issued holding local police accountable if illegal liquor manufacturing units are found. The bench cited the Bihar hooch tragedy, where 39 people lost their lives.

After hearing the arguments, the bench said, “Let us see how it progresses. We will monitor it” and scheduled the matter for further hearing after winter vacations.

The affidavit filed by the department said: “There will be complete coordination with Police Department at district level and the resources available with Police Department like trained man power, drones and boats for river side searches etc shall be pressed into service during cordon and search operations carried out in illicit liquor prone areas.”

“All the vacant posts in the Punjab state excise force shall be filled immediately to increase the availability of manpower to fight this menace of illicit distillation of liquor effectively. Similarly, the department will ensure that all the posts of excise inspectors as per sanctioned strength are filled.”

On December 5, the Supreme Court pulled up the Punjab government over the issue of sale of spurious liquor in the state, saying Punjab is a border state and this is a very serious matter. The top court asked the state government to come up with specific steps to curb the menace of spurious liquor, while adding that the youth will be finished.

The apex court was hearing a plea arising out of a September 2020 order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which disposed of a petition seeking transfer of some FIRs registered in Punjab in relation to distillation of spurious liquor, its sale, and inter-state smuggling to the CBI.

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