EC claims 3,392 outlets closed in 12 by-poll districts even as Excise officials deny their existence

The announcement by the Election Commission that it had ensured the closure of 3,392 liquor belt shops in the 12 by-election districts has exposed the empty claim of Excise Department that there were no such outlets in the State.

Would the overnight closure of such a large number of shops been possible without prior knowledge of Excise staff about their existence? And if so, why were they not closed earlier in spite of knowing that they were unauthorised and conducting parallel business? These questions were posed by citizens' groups, which are sure that these shops will be re-opened the moment the polls are over.

Forced to shell out heavily during auctioning of retail liquor shops, the retailers (about 6,596 now) established/ promoted belt (chain) shops in their respective areas. Interestingly, these belt shops, run by kirana/petty shops and in residences at some places, cater to about 10 un-served villages under each licensee. They were being auctioned by the retailers annually to get Rs. 2 lakh to Rs. 3 lakh each, to make up the heavy sums paid by them to get the licences.

The sources told this correspondent that mini-syndicates of retailers were operating in each district to sell liquor above MRP at licensed outlets and the belt shops with assured protection from politicians.

Meanwhile, reports have indicated that there has been an unbridled liquor flow in the 12 districts, undermining another EC claim that the liquor consumption in these areas was curbed following the issue of election notification.

Despite ceiling imposed on sales and sealing of inter-district and inter-state borders, liquor and beer consumption (possibly with large quantities stocked for distribution to voters) in these districts in May had far exceeded the usual monthly quota —18.78 lakh cases and 5.13 lakh cases. The overall liquor consumption in the State is put at 4.2 crore cases per annum (each case having 9 litres) and beer 346 lakh cases.

Another threat to the elections loomed large from illicit liquor but the EC contained it to some extent.

Keywords: by-electionEC fiat