EX- RAILWAY employee, who, 15 years ago smuggled liquor from Daman to Mumbai by train while on duty, sold it to specific retail shops and is supposedly close to a powerful politician from Vidarbha

MANI Dalt39MELLO Mumbai

Its not just politicians from the cow belt dominating the liquor trade in Mumbai.

A former railway employee is learnt to own some 27 retail liquor shops in the city.

The man, who 15 years ago, smuggled liquor from Daman to Mumbai by train while on duty, sold it to specific retail shops and is supposedly close to a powerful politician from Vidarbha.

In fact, this politician has also bailed out former railway employee when a truckload of liquor was seized at the Dahisar check naka while being smuggled into the city from Daman some 5 years ago.

His political clout gave him immunity against penal action, according to a state excise official. The excise official disclosed that a large amount of liquor is smuggled into the city from Daman through road and is offloaded into the retail outlets and godowns owned by this ex- railway official, which are located in various parts of the city. There is a strong suspicion that politicians are laundering tainted money in the liquor trade through this ex- railway employee who wields considerable clout in the retail liquor business in Mumbai.

Also, politicians from the cow belt of India who are believed to have taken over nearly around 50 % of the liquor trade in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane, in the last 10 years, are threatening to take over nearly 90 per cent of the trade in these cities. While one of the politicians is from Uttar Pradesh, another is from Bihar. Interestingly, through both the politicians who are currently in the opposition in their respective state, they reportedly enjoy a close rapport with powerful politicians in Maharashtra.

Highly reliable sources in the state excise disclosed that the front companies floated by these politicians control approximately 80 % of the liquor distributorship trade and 50 % of the retail business in Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai.

Currently, about 80 licences have been purchased in Mumbai and its neighbouring towns by the front company managed by the UP politicians close aide who originally hails from Etawah and 40 % licences by the front company floated by the Bihar politicians business aide operating out of Mumbai.

In all, about Rs 300 crore of tainted funds is estimated to have been invested in the liquor trade by the UP politician since 2001, while the Bihar politician is believed to have pumped in more than Rs 350 crore of his familys ill- gotten wealth in these cities.

It is learnt the UP politician had invested money through his frontman who handles the finance through a distributorship firm floated in 2001 and the Bihar politician too followed him into the business of laundering scam- tainted money.

Frontmen of these politicians entered the liquor market when the Vilasrao Deshmukh government introduced a hike in the annual licence fee between Rs 200 – 400 crore for various categories of liquor.

A number of retail shop owners sold their licenses and a few others even disposed of their outlets at throwaway prices in suburban Mumbai and parts of Thane and Navi Mumbai.

Many of these original licence holders were unable to afford paying the massive hike in the fee and sales too had dropped sizably, according to sources in the Excise department.

It was only following the state government lowering the ceiling on the annual fee, in June 2003, that there was a trickle in the sale of licence and retail shop premises. However, the front company continued its takeover plan even though the numbers of retail licence holders selling their licenses dropped. Since the Prithviraj Chavan government is not open to introducing a liberalised excise policy, the front companiesalt39 plan to take over 90 % of the entire liquor trade industry in Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai, has not materialised.

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