BHUBANESWAR: The owners of licensed liquor shops in state are reluctant to resume their business which has been interrupted due the nationwide lockdown over novel coronavirus since March 25. They have urged the state government to extend the dry spell further.
However, there were intense discussions that liquor shop owners were pleading for the extension of the dry spell in state to serve their own interest and are least concerned about the health of people.
All the licensed liquor shops and bars in Odisha had been closed by the state Excise department as part of the nationwide lockdown. State government’s chief spokesperson on COVID-19, Subroto Bagchi, had urged the people not to consume liquor during this critical juncture.
However, many licensed shops in state have flouted the lockdown norms by selling huge quantities of liquor clandestinely to the retailers and common people as well. The liquor traders also never missed the opportunity to charge extra bucks from the consumers, sources said.
“The Excise department had directed the liquor traders to close their shops. But, no step was taken to seal the liquor shops. So, the traders sold huge quantities of liquor illegally during the lockdown period,” said a source.
The seizure of huge quantities of foreign as well as country liquor from various places in the state vindicates how the Illegal liquor trade continued unabated during the lockdown.
In the twin cities of Cuttack and Bhubaneswar, some unscrupulous persons were found using luxury cars with travel passes from police to transport liquor illegally during the lockdown. Some of these illegal liquor dealers have been arrested by police and sent to jail.
It is learnt that many of the licensed liquor traders have exhausted their stock due to the illegal business during the lockdown. Fearing the customers’ ire, they are very much reluctant to reopen their shops. “The licensed liquor traders are perhaps planning to reopen their shops after getting fresh supply from bottling plants. Some of them, in cahoots with a few Excise department officials, are now making diligent efforts to set right their stock registers,” said Orissa High Court lawyer Bismaya Kumar Stalin.
Stalin claimed that many seized foreign as well as country liquor bottles and packs had the state government logo. So, it was crystal clear that these liquor had been sold by some licensed shops clandestinely, he said.
“A thorough probe by the police and Excise sleuths can find out the licensed traders involved in illegal liquor trade during lockdown,” Stalin said.
Notably, an illegal liquor dealer, who was arrested by the police recently, claimed that he was sourcing liquor from licensed shops by paying almost double the price and was selling the same to customers at a rate thrice the actual price.
However, many other states and UTs in India have done well with regard to checking the illegal liquor trade during the lockdown.
Reports claimed that illegal liquor trade had gone up in Pondicherry during the initial phase of the lockdown. Taking the issue seriously, Pondicherry Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi had directed Excise department secretary Surbinder Singh to probe the illegal trade. Soon, the Excise sleuths checked the stock registers of 150 licensed liquor shops. The licences of 14 liquor shops were cancelled following the detection of certain anomalies at their stock registers.
It is worth mentioning here that the Excise authorities in Pondicherry had checked the stocks of licensed liquor shops before sealing them as part of the lockdown March 24.
“The excise officials in other states checked the stocks of licensed liquor shops and sealed them as part of the lockdown. But, the Excise department in Odisha did not do the same. A high-level probe should be launched into the rise in illegal liquor sale during the lockdown and stern action must be taken against the errant traders,” said a social activist.
Meanwhile, a large number of customers were seen queuing up at licensed liquor shops in Cuttack Monday soon after the Centre allowed resumption of liquor sale in Green Zones. However, the customers returned empty-handed as shops did not open, sources said.
Cuttack Excise superintendent Ashok Kumar Satpathy said they had not received any communiqué from the state government to allow liquor shops to resume their business.
Bhubaneswar Excise department superintendent Prasanna Acharya said all the liquor shops and bars in the Capital city have been shut as per the direction of the state government. “However, no liquor shop has been sealed in Bhubaneswar. We will check their stock registers and take stern action against the traders involved in illegal liquor sale,” he said.
Excise Commissioner Anjan Kumar Manik claimed that the enforcement squads of the Excise department have been keeping tab on illegal liquor sale. “We have taken action against several illegal liquor traders. Stern action will be taken against the licensed traders if they are found guilty,” Manik added.