Smuggling spirit into the State and vending it through various means have acquired the status of mafia operations in Kerala.
Both the police and the excise officials concede that there has not been any letup in the volume of spirit being smuggled into the State. Managers of bars have been arrested while smuggling in spirit. But these are not enough to convince Minister for Excise K. Babu that there is something seriously wrong with the way liquor trade is conducted in the State.
During an interaction with The Hindu Mr. Babu categorically denied that spirit smuggled into the State is sold through bars. He alleged that there was an ongoing campaign that illicit liquor was being sold through bars. For this reason the Excise Department has decided to go in for labels with high security features, replacing the easily-forged holograms.
The Minister also refuted a complaint that the State police was slowing down its drive against smuggling of spirit after alleged attempts to corner top police officers who led the anti-spirit drive in Palakkad district.
On his part, Mr. Babu appears to be treating the symptoms rather than the disease. Instead of addressing the issue of spirit smuggling and its possible sales through licensed IMFL bars, Mr. Babu talked about proposals for setting up new wings in the Excise Department.
A Crime Records Bureau and a Crime Branch under Joint Excise Commissioners have been proposed, he said. “The Crime Records Bureau will help to keep track of repeat offenders and improve the drive against spurious liquor,” said Mr. Babu.
Both these departments will be under new Joint Commissioners of Excise though in reality the department has only 14 Deputy Excise Commissioners for 14 districts.
Mr. Babu pointed out that Excise Department had always been low priority for the government even though it tops the list of revenue earners. In fact, Plan fund was, for the first time, released last year, he said. Most of the Excise offices function out of rented buildings with the minimum of facilities.
It also means that the department is facing practical difficulties in setting up scanners and preventive mechanism at 36 official checkposts along the border, even after ignoring the numerous smaller entry points that dot the border. But Mr. Babu is all eloquent about the three mobile laboratories, each costing around Rs. 50 lakh, to be launched soon. “The first unit will be given to the South Zone,” he said.
As another major development in the department, Mr. Babu talked about the new label being designed for liquor sold through Kerala State Beverages Corporation counters. “The new label will have 24 security features. Pre-tender quotations have been invited for the same.”
Interestingly, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had earlier found anomalies in the printing of holograms brought out by the Excise Department.
The internal vigilance wing also found errors in the process adopted for printing of holograms.