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Will to prevent illicit liquor trade seems totally lacking

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By ARUN PRATAP SINGH

DEHRADUN, 22 Sep: Friday’s incident in which hooch killed 7 persons right in the heart of the state capital raises several questions regarding the will to prevent such tragedies in the future. Mere suspension of a few officials of the excise department and the Police is hardly going to help. The kingpins stated to be involved are Ajay Sonkar, who is a local BJP leader, and Raja Negi. Both, Sonkar and Negi are history-sheeters and have made headlines in the past, too. Sonkar was a Congress leader till last year when he not only switched over to the BJP but also was given the post of Vice President of the Karanpur Mandal in the party. He is now on the run. His wife had contested for the post of municipal councillor from Karanpur, last year. Their involvement came to light when the Police arrested one Gaurav in the case. Gaurav has revealed the role of Negi and Sonkar in the illicit trade. In February, this year, when around 40 persons had died after consuming illicit liquor in Roorkee, the government had seemed reluctant to act against senior officials of the excise department and the Police. However, Friday’s incident is far more serious despite the fact that the number of casualties is less. While in Roorkee, those who had purchased illicit liquor were fully aware of the fact that the liquor they were purchasing was illegally distilled in a local setup, the victims in Dehradun are stated to have purchased the liquor from a licensed country liquor vend, or ordered the purchase via ‘home delivery’ route through Sonkar. It was known to many insiders that Sonkar was involved in the liquor trade and he was considered close to several big BJP and Congress leaders, including at least two local BJP MLAs. Raja Negi had even been arrested in the past for illicit liquor trade.It is a well known fact that illicit liquor trade can’t operate in any area without the patronage of local police officials. It is said that bootleggers in the illicit liquor regularly pay commission to the police and the excise officials. Sources within the government admitted that some senior excise department officials at the district level and even at the state level were in the know of such illegal trade. Yet, they were not only reluctant to act against the bootleggers, but were also beneficiaries of the ‘trade’. The local intelligence units have also proven to be an utter failure. When such trade was underway for a long time, in the very heart of the city which is the state capital, it remains a mystery why the LIU did not report such a continuing trade. In this case, what is more shocking is the fact that licensed liquor vends are also directly and indirectly involved. Negi and Sonkar are now stated to be supplying liquor to licensed venders, too. Some senior officers in the excise department who were suspended in the past are now not only reinstated but also enjoying plum postings. What is shocking, however, is the reluctance on the part of the government to take the senior excise and police officers to task. Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident, but it remains a fact that such inquiries by themselves have not resulted in convictions in any major case in the past 19 years of the state’s existence. In fact, many of the magisterial inquiries did not even conclude in several well known cases and have generally proven to be useless. Unless the excise and the Police departments are completely overhauled and the ruling parties make it a strict convention to not welcome such criminals into their fold, nothing will improve and such cases will continue to occur from time to time.