The Supreme Court, earlier this week, slammed the Punjab government over the large scale illicit liquor manufacturing in the State and the failure on part of the police authorities to properly probe the same [Tarsem Jodhan vs State of Punjab].
A division bench of Justices MR Shah and MM Sundresh noted that from 2019 till May 2021, a total 34,767 criminal cases were registered under the Punjab Excise Act and over 1,270 illegal units or bhatthis manufacturing illicit liquor, were unearthed and destroyed.
"This is suggestive that large scale of illicit liquor is being manufactured in the State of Punjab, which shows the lack of periodical inspection and supervision by the concerned police officers and the Excise Department due to which such units are functioning," the Court said in its order passed on November 21.
The Court was hearing a petition challenging an order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which had refused to transfer the probe into the cases of illegal liquor manufacturing to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The bench noted that because of such large scale manufacturing of illegal liquor, hooch tragedies happen and poor people lose their lives since they are compelled to consume spurious liquor.
"It cannot be disputed that because of the illegal manufacturing of liquor and that too sub-standard manufacture and transportation of liquor, hooch tragedies are taking place and the poor people are the sufferer because ultimately either it affects their health or even in many cases many people have lost their lives," the bench underscored.
During the hearing, the bench took into account the affidavit filed by the Under Secretary to the Government of Punjab, Department of Excise & Taxation, pointing out some steps taken against the distilleries/ bottling plants/ breweries during 2020-21. It also examined the status report filed in connection to 13 first information reports (FIRs) registered against such distilleries, bottling plants, breweries etc.
However, the bench was not impressed with the slow pace of the probe.
"We are not at all satisfied with the progress in the investigation. It appears that no serious efforts seem to have been made to reach out to the real guilty/culprits who are in business of manufacture and transportation of such illegal liquors," the bench emphasised.
It said that mere cancelling the licences and/or recovery of penalties/duties from such distilleries etc. would not be sufficient. It also noted that the report was silent on whether the penalties imposed were paid or not.
The Court further noted that out of 13 FIRs, only in three cases, challans were reported to have been filed while the remaining nine FIRs, were still being investigated.
The Under Secretary was, therefore, directed to file a counter affidavit giving details of the distilleries, bottling plants and breweries whose licences were reported to have been cancelled and/or penalties/duties levied.
"The affidavit to also spell out whether the penalties/duties levied are recovered or not and in three cases where the challans are reported to have been filed against whom the challans are filed, the allegations in the FIRs and for what offences the challans are filed. Also, the particulars of each FIRs in the remaining cases, namely, against whom the alike FIRs are filed for what offences, the FIRs are filed what is the stage of investigation, who are arrested in connection with those FIRs," the bench ordered.
The matter would be next heard on December 5.
Senior Advocate Baltej Sijngh Sidhu and advocates Prashant Bhushan, Cheryl D’Souza and Lalit Kumar appeared for the Petitioner.
Advocates Ajay Pal, Mayank Dahiya and Priyanka C represented the State.