Andhra Pradesh

The menace of illegal smuggling and sale of liquor in Andhra Pradesh

The unprecedented situation arising out of the COVID-19-induced lockdown may have shattered the lives of many rendering them jobless and struggling for survival, but for some unscrupulous people desperate to make a fast buck it opened up new opportunities in illegal liquor sale.

Initially, it was the Illicitly Distilled (ID) liquor that was peddled when the shutdown was total. With the government opening liquor shops from May 4, the focus shifted to smuggling of Non-Duty Paid Liquor (NDPL) from the neighbouring Telangana and Karnataka. The government’s move to sell limited quota of liquor per person, the steep rise in the prices and non-availability of the regular liquor brands which the tipplers are used to, worked to the advantage of the clandestine operators.

With the availability of NDPL in urban areas and ID liquor and arrack in villages and tribal hamlets, suddenly, the trade was flourishing everywhere with thousands of belt shops operating. Even many women and children were lured by the easy money available in the transactions.

The situation becomes evident from the words of K. Manemma of Chintalapudi in West Godavari district, "It’s a lucrative deal. As the government is selling only new brands of liquor, there is a huge market for the earlier products, which are easily available in the border States and fetch up to 300% excess price."

For some desperate for survival, like vegetable vendor P. Murali of Mylavaram, the situation offered a ray of hope. "I had to close down my vegetables shop due to the pandemic. Unable to feed the family, I started selling liquor along with three others by investing ₹25,000," says he.

In remote villages, the traditional brewers saw a new-found demand for their art. Explains B. Sakru of Chatrai mandal in Krishna district, "Tipplers are flocking to tribal hamlets for cheaper ID liquor. Some are reselling it. At peak demand during the lockdown, a litre of country-made liquor sold for more than ₹500."

To counter these tendencies, the State government, in a latest move, reduced the cheap liquor prices to some extent but it appears too early to gauge its impact.

Special force

However, it was not long before the long arm of the law caught hold of liquor operatives and many of them landed behind the bars in the last 110 days. Among them were people not only from the State but also from Telangana, Karnataka and other neighbouring States.

The Special Enforcement Bureau (SEB) launched by the government on May 13 comprising the police and excise staff, to crackdown on the rising menace of liquor and sand smuggling soon got into the action. The joint raids by the SEB with the Police and the Prohibition and Excise personnel resulted in the seizure and destruction of huge quantities of liquor, including country-made liquor at various places in the State, and the exploits won plaudits from the Director General of Police D. Gautam Sawang, the Ex-Officio Principal Secretary of the SEB.

The new force vowed strict vigil at the border check-posts and a clampdown on belt shops. A whopping 43,000 belt shops (unauthorised liquor shops) have been closed down in the last few months, say SEB officials.

"The SEB has registered 34,429 cases, arrested 44,795 persons, seized about 12,000 vehicles and confiscated liquor worth crores of rupees in the last three and a half months," says its Commissioner Vineet Brijlal.

"In all, 389 border check-posts have been arranged besides 38 by the Excise Department. We are focusing on those importing NDPL in huge quantities. Fifteen mobile parties are active on the borders," he adds.

Many arrests have been made at the check-posts at Garikapadu, Peddapuram, Gangineni, Ananthavaram, Tiruvuru, Vemireddipally, Akkapalem, Krishnaraopalem and Vinagadapa, says SEB Additional SP Vakul Jindal.

Innovative ways

The crackdown on illicit liquor operations has unearthed innovative ways of smuggling in the stock. According to Eluru Range Deputy Inspector General (DIG) K.V. Mohan Rao, "Liquor smugglers are following different methods. We have caught liquor being transported in boats, milk vans, aqua containers and vegetable stocks to name a few. About 135 government employees were arrested in 108 cases of liquor smuggling."

In East Godavari district, the police have tightened security in Chinturu, V.R. Puram and Yatapaka areas to check liquor smuggling through forests from Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Telangana.

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2020 11:22:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/high-spirits/article32532998.ece

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