Patna: With Bihar Assembly polls less than a month away, the liquor mafia in the dry state has suddenly become more active in smuggling alcohol to store it for a likely rise in demand as it is often used by politicians to lure voters.
As the smuggling rises, so does the conflict between the police and the mafia. In one incident in Saran district on Monday, a liquor-laden truck hit a police vehicle and dragged it for over 200 metres while seriously injuring the Station House Officer (SHO). In another case on Sunday, there was an attack on a police team that went to raid a suspected liquor mafia in Muzaffarpur; three policemen were injured in the incident.
Ahead of the first state assembly elections in Bihar since a total liquor prohibition was imposed in April 2016, police have started special operations to recover prohibited liquor and increased surveillance to check smuggling by the powerful liquor mafia.
As per officials at the police headquarters in Patna, small recovery of liquor and spirit was made in the state after the Election Commission announced the date for the polls, which will take place in three phases starting October 28. The second phase will take place on November 3 and third on November 7.
Cops vs Liquor Smugglers
In the latest attack on police on Monday night, the driver of a liquor-laden truck tried to crush Ratnesh Kumar, the officer-in-charge of Mashrak police station in Saran district, when he attempted to stop the vehicle during a normal checking on State Highway 73. Kumar was first admitted to a government-run primary health centre and was later shifted to Sadar hospital in Chhapra, district headquarters in view of his serious injury.
“Kumar was on duty and checking trucks following information that liquor mafias are transporting liquor in trucks and he suspected a speeding truck. When he tried to stop the truck, the driver hit a police vehicle and dragged it. Kumar survived but was injured,” a district police official said.
Police later recovered 40 drums of liquor from that truck.
In the other incident, a liquor mafia boss and his henchmen attacked a police team on Sunday evening in Harpur village under Hathori police station in Muzaffarpur district when the cops went to raid the house of suspected liquor mafia Mithun Rai.
“We were attacked by Rai, his family members and his henchmen and three policemen were injured in the incident. Later we managed to escape from there,” said Binod Das, officer-in-charge of Hathori police station, who was himself injured.
Following the violent attack, main accused Rai managed to flee the place.
DSP Rajesh Pandey said three people have been arrested in connection with the attack on the police team, which was on duty to raid the house of a suspected liquor mafia. The police decided to raid Rai’s house following information provided by an arrested driver and helper of a truck loaded with spirit that was recovered from the area under Gaighat police station last week. Police have also recovered 40 drums of spirit worth Rs 27 lakh from a truck on Saturday near Maithi toll plaza on NH 57.
Pandey said police have been raiding different places to arrest Rai. According to the police, the recovered spirit was transported from Siliguri in West Bengal on Rai’s demand.
In both trucks, the liquor mafia had used straws to cover liquor drums and made it look like fodder for cattle.
Failure of Liquor Ban
The opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress and Left parties have repeatedly alleged that liquor prohibition has failed in the state. They said that liquor mafias are freely smuggling liquor and home delivery of liquor has become a lucrative trade in urban and rural areas.
It appears that the opposition’s charges are not baseless. The much-hyped liquor ban in the state by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been widely seen as a failed attempt by people even after over four years of its introduction. What has made the liquor ban a joke among people is that illegal liquor is freely available on demand and there is an easy facility of home delivery across urban localities and villages. However, reports on the involvement of policemen in selling liquor from the police station as well as their official residences have come as a big jolt to the top brass of the state administration that has never missed a chance to claim the ban was a total success.
The dominant view in the streets is that liquor is available everywhere, only that the customers have to pay more for a bottle, particularly for Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL). Besides, availing country liquor is not a problem at all as the bootlegging industry is flourishing in the dry state.
Police officials said IMFL is mainly being smuggled from neighbouring states of Jharkhand, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and the neighbouring country Nepal as well. Besides, distant destinations of Haryana, Punjab and Delhi are also found as source places.
Ironically, despite prohibition, country-made liquor is brewed in thousands of villages across Bihar and has become a type of cottage industry.
During the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the police seized over 1 lakh litres of liquor in the state. But it was less than 20% of the 5.78 lakh litres liquor confiscated during 2014 Lok Sabha polls, which was held before the liquor prohibition was imposed. Similarly, police seized large quantities of liquor during the 2015 Bihar Assembly polls.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a small-time liquor smuggler told NewsClick that hundreds of jobless youths are lured in the illegal business of liquor. But in recent days, Bihar is witnessing liquor smuggling on a large scale. “Police have failed to seize or recover less than 10% of liquor smuggling,” he said.
Another youth involved in illegal liquor business said the liquor mafias are ensuring to stock liquor as they know that there will be soaring demand for liquor during the polls in October-November. He said, “Once central security forces are deployed in the state’s national highways and state highways, it will be difficult to smuggle liquor by road. Keeping this in mind, the liquor mafias are doing everything to stock up.”