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It is concerning to hear that Punjab is turning to country liquor as a solution to fight the illegal sale of hooch. While it may be a temporary fix, it is not a long-term solution and could potentially lead to more problems. Alcohol abuse and addiction are serious issues that should be addressed through education and rehabilitation programs, not by promoting the consumption of more alcohol. It is important for the government to find a more sustainable and effective solution to address the sale of illegal hooch.

When Bihar’s prohibition law is failing to avert hooch tragedies, Punjab’s Bhagwant Singh Mann government on Thursday informed the Supreme Court that it plans to provide a “cheap variant of country liquor” as a healthy substitute to wean away people from illicit homemade liquor.

The AAP-governed state’s Excise and Taxation Department said this in an affidavit even as even as senior advocate Ajit Sinha informed a bench of Justices M R Shah and C T Ravikumar that the police have also strengthened local-level intelligence to detect and destroy illegal liquor manufacturing ‘bhattis’ which have mushroomed over the years in the sensitive border state.

Sinha also said that the state has launched a massive awareness campaign against consumption of illicitly distilled liquor and the ill-effects of such home-made hooch. The state has also announced rewards ranging from Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakhs to informers depending on the quantity of illicit liquor seized based on their information, he said.

However, its decision to provide cheap country liquor was unique. “To wean away illicit liquor consuming sections of society from its use, the state government has introduced in current Excise Policy a cheap variant of Country Liquor (CL) having 40-degree strength. This liquor is going to be a healthy substitute for illegally brewed homemade liquor,” it said.

“The field officers of the Excise Department have been entrusted with the task of giving their requirement of 40-degree country liquor based on ground inputs so that the same can be made available in illicit liquor prone areas in near future,” the AAP government said.

The state government’s response came after Justice Shah-led bench had during November 1 and December 5 hearings disapproved the state’s lethargy in acting against liquor mafia and those responsible for the 2020 hooch tragedies, which claimed 120 lives in Tarn Taran, Amritsar and Gurdaspur. The hooch tragedy-caused deaths had led to massive protests, including those by AAP led by Mann against the then Congress government led by Capt Amrinder Singh.

Expressing inability to implement the SC’s suggestion to use fine amounts collected from illegal liquor manufacturers for drives against proliferation of hooch, the state said these amounts go to government treasury and then allocated to various departments based on budgetary allocation. However, it promised that “no stone will be left unturned” to stop manufacture and use of illicit liquor in Punjab.

The state police told the SC that it has appointed high-ranking officials as nodal officers to ensure speedy completion of investigation into illicit liquor manufacturing cases and said that if cases are not registered promptly against hooch manufacturers, “departmental action would be taken against delinquent officers”. The bench asked the state government to give details of progress in the investigations into the 2020 hooch tragedy cases and posted further hearing on January 10.

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