The lockdown and the subsequent economic distress have led to a rise in smuggling of duty-evaded liquor and consumption of illicit alcohol.
Many drinkers prefer cheaper liquor smuggled in from other states due to the huge price difference. On Wednesday, a state excise team seized a Rs 52.35 lakh worth consignment of liquor that had been smuggled in from Madhya Pradesh for sale in Maharashtra.
The liquor, which included 600 boxes of whisky, was being transported by a trailer, from Khargone in Madhya Pradesh, and was intercepted at Nagpur by a team comprising of inspector Prasad Sastukar and others. The driver has been arrested.
A senior state excise official said that after the lockdown was imposed, some permit rooms and retailers had sold liquor stocks in a clandestine manner. “People are shifting to cheaper-priced and low-grade liquor. Liquor manufactured in states like Madhya Pradesh, Goa and the union territory of Diu and Daman is cheaper than that sold in Maharashtra, which places a premium on smuggling,” he added.
The official said country liquor consumers, who hail from the toiling classes, have also moved to hooch and illicit liquor, in areas like Thane and Vidarbha.
“We are cracking down on illicit liquor and smuggling of liquor. We have a focussed program for this,” said K.L Umap, Commissioner, State Excise, adding that there were attempts by bootleggers to get liquor from areas like Goa and Daman to Maharashtra.
State excise officials had also chanced upon a new modus operandi wherein some smugglers had created hidden cabins in the driver’s compartment of goods vehicles to keep liquor boxes. A consignment of 350 boxes that was being brought in from Goa using this method was nabbed at Kolhapur recently.
Maharashtra has a heavy excise duty regime as it follows a policy of discouraging liquor consumption through high prices and low sales.
But, since neighbouring states and union territories like Goa and Daman have comparatively liberal policies, leading to cheaply-priced liquor, this is an incentive to smugglers and bootleggers to bring in consignments of booze to Maharashtra. The replacement of heavier glass bottles with lighter plastic ones, also makes transport easier, sans the threat of breakage.
Officials said liquor brought in from Goa was sold in Mumbai and even places as far as Solapur, Ahmednagar and Osmanabad, while that from Daman had a clientele in Nashik, Thane, Palghar and the outskirts of Mumbai city.
Duty-evaded liquor from Madhya Pradesh is said to be sold in Vidarbha and parts of North Maharashtra. Liquor from Madhya Pradesh and Haryana is also smuggled into Gujarat, which is under prohibition, via Maharashtra.