There is more than what meets the eye in cases of bootlegging and illicit liquor trade in Punjab. That in more than 1,700 FIRs registered under the Excise Act, the accused — including the elderly — have managed to outrun the cops cannot be merely attributed to the substandard level of physical fitness of the police personnel. It lends credence to the rampant allegations of the politician-police-criminal nexus that have been doing the rounds since long. Whether it is the SAD-BJP alliance or the Congress in power, leaders of rival parties regularly trade charges of political patronage to the lucrative illicit business.
The latest spark for these allegations was the Majha hooch tragedy which claimed the lives of more than 110 persons in Tarn Taran, Amritsar and Gurdaspur districts in July-August last year. Yet, despite the Chief Minister immediately ordering a crackdown and the state police chief monitoring the investigations, it is just the small fish and not the sharks that are netted by the authorities. But soon after in September, when the probe into the liquor racket was shifted by the ED from Punjab to Delhi, AAP leaders accused the authorities adopting delaying and obstructing tactics. Even as the Opposition smells a thriving multi-crore booze scam and resultant loss of thousands of crores of rupees of the state’s revenue, action on the ground leaves a lot to be desired.
The seizure of a huge quantity of illicit liquor and raw material used for its distillation during a raid on an Amritsar premises last week points to the absolute lack of fear of the law by the offenders, who may even be out of jail on bail. The well-oiled network of distillers and liquor racketeers will keep flourishing till the kingpins are brought to book. And, sadly, the spectre of another spurious liquor tragedy striking anytime — wreaking havoc on unsuspecting consumers — will continue to loom large.