In 2020, Punjab’s Excise Department launched ‘Operation Red Rose’ to curb illicit liquor trading and nail excise-related crimes. A year-and-a-half later, with the use of precise tracking and monitoring systems to check illicit distillation and smuggling of liquor, the results in terms of the number of suspects booked for crimes, as well convictions and a rise in revenues, are encouraging.
In December 2020, the department busted an illegal bottling plant at Rajpura in Patiala district using Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. It has been made compulsory for transporters of extra neutral alcohol (ENA) and spirits to install GPS systems in their vehicles. A control room at the department’s head office in Mohali keeps a tab on the movement of all vehicles round the clock. On December 12, the control room flagged a tanker carrying 20,000 litres of ENA that had started from a distillery from Patiala but halted near Rajpura for an unusually long period of time. A squad of local officials was rushed to the spot, which found that ENA was being siphoned off from the tanker to an illegal bottling plant. A huge cache of liquor, blends, empty bottles and unused caps were also recovered, and a case was subsequently registered. This is one among several cases that the department has busted by deploying the latest technology.
“The basic idea behind Operation Red Rose was to ensure that there should not be illicit or illegal movement of liquor in Punjab. We have adopted zero tolerance on this front. Our conviction rate for 2021-22 (till April-August) is 90%, which in 2019-20 was at around 67%; and in 2020-21, the conviction rate was 77%,” Rajat Agarwal, Punjab’s Excise Commissioner, told The Hindu .
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Pointing out that the objective of the project is to keep an effective check on spurious and counterfeit liquor, Mr. Agarwal said: “We wanted to keep strict control over manufacturing units, the wholesale and the retail chain so that the quality of liquor is not compromised at any point. Under this operation, better coordination has been developed among the three wings — the civil administration, the Excise Department and the police — and the results are encouraging. The rise in revenue and increase in the number of FIRs and arrests, besides the rise in conviction rate, is testimony to the success of Operation Red Rose.”
In 2019-20, the department’s revenue was ₹5,118 crore; in 2020-21, it rose to ₹6,335 crore. The department is expecting the revenue to touch ₹7,000 crore this year.
In 2019, a total 11,953 FIRs were lodged and 13,243 arrests were made in cases related to illicit alcohol. From May 2020, when the operation was started, till May 2021, as many as 17,541 FIRs were registered and 16,216 people arrested. The number of convictions in excise-related crimes have also gone up.
“We are ensuring cases are taken to the logical conclusion. Enforcement is a continuous and dynamic activity so, of course, at times, unscrupulous elements will come out with some novel ways to work out their activities, but we have been improvising and efforts are paying off,” Mr. Agarwal said.
The department has used several technologies — flow meters in bottling plants, QR code-based passes, GPS enabled transport vehicles, and e-transit passes — to curb different modules of excise theft, which include direct supply of liquor from the manufacturing unit without paying excise duty; liquor smuggling from neighbouring States; and preparing liquor in villages, especially in the areas adjacent to rivers.
Naresh Dubey, Joint Commissioner with the State Excise Department, asserts that human intelligence, along with technology, is being effectively put to use. “I can assure that no liquor is illegally coming out from distilleries in Punjab,” he said, adding that the department has used the latest technologies in a manner that “each and every bottle is accounted for as there is a complete check on the inputs”.
“The entire manufacturing process of liquor in the State is now online, which is monitored in real-time. The total movement of liquor, consisting of PML (country liquor), Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) and beer, starting from manufacturing units to wholesalers and then further to retail shops or bars, is being done online. We have a control room, where our team members monitor the quantity, brand, etc., of the liquor being processed at a given manufacturing unit. On the wholesale front, all the permits are now given online. The retail module for online permits to retail licensees has also been implemented. All the passes have been made QR code enabled, which carry details of transactions that can be checked by any authority in transit — this has curbed the practice of duplicate passes. In every distillery, brewery or a bottling plant, the use of flow meters has been made mandatory, which captures the density, volume, etc., of the material and these readings are captured every 30 minutes. The purpose is to capture the inputs because once we now know details of the exact input content, the output can be easily scrutinised,” Mr. Dubey said.
“To check illegal preparation of liquor, especially in regions along rivers or water bodies, we are using drones. Now, we are working on a proposal to implement a ‘digital-locking’ system soon. The vehicle enabled with this system shall open only when it reaches the destination,” he added.