Bihar Booze: spaced out

article

It is perhaps impractical to expect liquor to vanish from a state like Bihar, and the trade has transcended usual manners and is flourishing on ‘home delivery’

Pardeep Modak

Pardeep Modak

The author is Patna based senior journalist with more than 32 years of experience, has worked with Hindustan Times and The Pioneer. He has written stories on nearly every field of journalism

The phone call came to the man sitting in his Exhibition Road ‘operations’ theatre in Patna. There was a smile on his face, a beaming smile. He would make a kill. The order was for six one litre bottles of Black Dog. That would be a whopping few thousand rupees extra, above the marked price. He had been given the address and a mobile number and told to call once he reached venue. But when he did reach, he realised it was the home of a top official of the state. He trembled a bit in the beginning, fearing whether his ‘dream’ was a trap. But a man came out, took the bottles and gave him his money.

Slowed down by upstream flow problems, the Ganga at Patna flows timidly. But not the liquor, so what if Nitish Kumar, for some crazy political reasoning of his own, has banned it and led tourists out of Bihar to the more ‘liquor-friendly’ Jharkhand, which already has a more salubrious climate and geography of hills, forests and waterfalls.

Recently, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad cried blue murder about ‘home delivery of liquor’ across Bihar. This comes in the context of the rather draconian ‘law’ passed by Nitish’s government that even if one single male from a family was found drunk, all the male members would be arrested. But then, there is a way out of everything, and the Bihar operators and drinkers have found that ’way’. Every brand is available, so what if the premium is as much as four or five times.

A question was raised from many a front why Lalu never raised the matter when his party was in power as a partner of Nitish. Sources here said that smuggling of liquor, especially India Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL), had been running since the total ban on sale, purchase and consumption imposed in the state from April 4, 2016, when RJD was a partner in the state government. His son, Tejaswi Yadav, via a contrived political promiscuity, was in fact the Deputy Chief Minister.

“Though this is not exactly a cake walk, if you have developed your contacts, you can easily get the brand you desire at your door step, albeit after ordering in advance,” in insider revealed.

Big Game, Small News

Liquor related arrests make small and negligible headlines nowadays, as they have become too regular. And yet: “Despite the strictness of the government machinery supported by a stricter law, which invites stringent punishment for the violators, the black business of liquor is running unabatedly in the state,” sources remarked. The insiders are making a killing: they insist you cannot demand your brand, unless you order in advance. “There are some risk factors laced with this venture. For example; you cannot change your supplier on your whim and fancy. If you opt for a change and ask some other supplier to provide the stuff for you, the earlier supplier may put you into trouble by informing the police that you are regular customer of illegal liquor,” sources said.

The law is tough: if arrested you will be sent to jail, and only a special court will hear your bail plea, and special courts do not sit every day. The Patna High Court recently ordered that the person arrested in liquor related cases might move High Court for regular bail application, if his plea is rejected by the special court.

It has been observed in the last 16 months that the smugglers have adopted all the three routes land, sky and water- to run their business and played hide and seek games with the police.

On the other hand, it is clear that the cops are into the game. The state government had taken lots of measures to stop the illegal trade. Several police personnel were suspended for their alleged nexus with the liquor smugglers.

‘Rags to Riches’

When the total prohibition act came into force, smuggling of liquor was an unorganised and sporadic business, as small gangs were found operating in the state capital Patna selling liquor in the black and making it available at the doorstep through different modes. They took the help of rag pickers to ferry the stuff from one corner of the city to the other to dodge the police. Rag pickers put the stuff in their big plastic bags and covered them adequately under some waste plastic materials. These boys were then asked to handover the small bag to a certain person (not the actual buyer) on a certain location. The rag pickers used to get Rs 50 to Rs 100 per consignment, sources said.

In the initial stage, IMFL and beer were also refilled in fruit juice cans and sold from the some small kiosks meant for selling cigarettes and paan. But the business could not last long as police cracked the nexus.

On the other hand, country-made (desi) liquor smugglers also got creative about ferrying their wares. Most significantly, they carried the stuff in large milk cans, and in tubes and pouches stuffed under vegetables in smaller trucks.

An airlines flier told this correspondent that IMFL was being carried to Patna via Delhi-Patna, Kolkata-Patna and other inbound flights from various cities. They, however, said, these could not be termed as ‘smuggling’ as the fliers, who are coming to Patna for some business purposes, or residents of the state capital returning to the city from other cities, purchased one or two bottles from the airport and kept them inside their luggage for personal use. Point to be noted: liquor cannot be carried in cabin baggage. Since it is not illegal to carry a certain volume of alcohol from the cities one is flying out from for Patna, no curbs can be imposed, and since there is no provision for checking on landing, the liquor passes easily.

Sources said the smuggling of liquor was rampant in the bordering districts to West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand. “Smuggling is also running at a brisk pace from Nepal,” sources said.

He said the cost per bottle in the bordering districts was also cheaper than in Patna. It is known that IMFL bottles were reaching Patna mostly by trains. The trains arriving from Kolkata, Ranchi and some stations of Uttar Pradesh carried the consignments of liquor bottles. “The smugglers unload their consignments in the sub-urban stations of Patna to skip intensive checking at Patna Junction,” they revealed. So no matter how much Nitish Babu raves and rants, wisdom has fled the land where Buddha attained Nirvana and booze flows faster than the Ganga!

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