Smuggling of liquor: There's gaping hole in border checks

| MARCH 28, 2024, 11:25 PM IST

Despite the election machinery tightening of protocols at the border checkposts ahead of the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections, liquor continues to be smuggled in large quantities leading one to believe that those involved are continuously exploiting a loophole in the system. It is hard to believe that those involved in this trade can afford the risk of a gamble that runs into lakhs of rupees.

On Tuesday night, Canacona police foiled a bid at the Marle forest area in Canacona where liquor, mostly IMFL, worth around Rs 67,000 was being smuggled into Karnataka. In February, there was another seizure of around Rs 10 lakhs of liquor at that location and police busted the area and found three different storerooms stocking various brands of liquor. Surprisingly, storerooms have mushroomed in Marle forest which comes under the Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary and shares the Goa border with the nearest route to Karnataka barely 500 metres away making it the logistical hub for smuggling booze.

Earlier this month, a truck carrying IMFL worth over Rs 50 lakh made its way through the porous Goa border but was intercepted in Gujarat. The seizure led to several arrests, including two Goans. Ironically this comes against the backdrop of the Chief Electoral Officer, Goa police and the Excise Department stating that flying squads have been constituted to crack down on liquor smuggling, besides tightening border checks.

Surprisingly, there have been multiple seizures in the past few months giving the impression that liquor smugglers are either working in tandem with the system or have the confidence of beating the checkpoints. Take for example the Rs 50 lakh consignment that managed to pass through the borders of Goa before being intercepted at Gujarat.

The argument that protocols are tightened at the border falls flat when a truck of illegal liquor moves out of the State outwitting the entire border machinery. To top it all, top excise officials refused to explain when this newspaper sought to understand how that happened.

Police and excise officials have taken the credit for periodically seizing consignments and arresting those involved, but the frequency at which the trade is moving suggests that those seizures are not helping. Officials need to strike at the root of the illegal liquor industry. If illegal liquor is seized, why are these units not raided and sealed? Mere consignment seizures would mean nothing because an arrest would not disconnect the chain of supply.

The frequency at which liquor is moving points to a well-established link between officials and bootleggers. There is big money involved in the liquor trade because the sale of liquor is prohibited in States like Maharashtra and Gujarat, and alcohol from Goa, even if manufactured illegally sells at four to five times the label price.

With the intensity of the Lok Sabha polls set to pick up in the months ahead, the shipments of liquor are bound to increase. Mere words are not enough, the CEO and excise commissioner while presenting a water-tight protocol at borders must explain how truckloads of alcohol pass through.

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