Punjab: For sale in Chhattisgarh? State contradicts distillery claim

Sources in the department said about 20,000 crates of liquor bearing stickers – For Sale in Chhattisgarh – were found during the inspection.

A day after inspecting the distilleries in the state to check stocks, Punjab’s Excise and Taxation Department has unearthed a distillery in Malwa region evading excise duty by putting stickers to indicate that the liquor was meant for sale in Chhattisgarh while the central Indian state has told the Punjab government that they had not given any permission to the distillery.

Sources in the department said about 20,000 crates of liquor bearing stickers – For Sale in Chhattisgarh – were found during the inspection. “When we sent a mail to Chhattisgarh excise department to cross-check the claim of the distillery, we received a reply that no such mandatory permission was sought from the government,” an official said.

He added, “We have now asked the distillery to support their claim. If they are unable to, then we will charge excise duty from them. It would amount to an evasion of excise duty worth Rs 5-6 crore. We will impose a fine as well.”

As per rules, a distillery can only brew a certain stock of liquor against permission from different states where these are intended to be sold. Every distillery is allowed certain stock to be brewed in Punjab and excise duty is to be paid to the state government.

In the past few days, allegations have surfaced that the distilleries had brewed stocks during curfew and the liquor was sold in black in the state by evading the excise duty and causing a loss to the state exchequer.

The functionary said that they had asked the staff to inspect the distilleries once again to be doubly sure of any evasion. “We do not want to take any chances. The officials are now checking the distilleries again.”

The double-checking of stock has delayed the report to be submitted to Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. The inspection was conducted at all the 15 distilleries, including those owned by the VIPs in the state. “It is taking time. The report has to come from all 15 distilleries. After double-checking, we should be able to compile it on Monday,” a functionary said.

Amidst the allegations of excise duty evasion, and subsequent inspection, the state government has transferred about 100 officials of the department who were incharge of the distilleries. As many as 22 Excise and Taxation Officers (ETOS) and 73 Excise and Taxation Inspectors have been transferred in a major reshuffle.

The smuggling of liquor has become a political issue in the state lately after Cabinet Ministers confronted Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh in a meeting about the issue. A number of MLAs and ministers have linked it with excise losses in the state. The CM has ordered inspection of the distilleries and asked the department to take action.

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