Here's some sobering news for authorities in Patna- shopkeepers in dry state Bihar's capital claim they can deliver bottles of the most-sought-after liquor brands to the doorstep of customers willing to pay hefty amounts, a Mail Today sting operation has revealed.
The Nitish Kumar-led government outlawed the sale and consumption of alcohol last year, honouring a pledge the chief minister made ahead of Assembly elections.
The promise was seen as a move to win support among women, particularly from the dalit and other backward castes, who were most affected by rising liquor consumption and its detrimental impact on families in the mainly conservative, rural state.
The police department though termed the findings of the sting operation isolated incidents. The first thing this reporter noticed on reaching the city was the banners and huge hoardings erected by the administration that read "alcohol free area". Each floor of the hotel also had signs saying "alcohol is prohibited".
HERE'S ALL THAT WENT DOWN
In the evening, the reporter approached a store next to Gandhi Maidan on the pretext of buying a soft drink. After striking up a conversation with the shopkeeper, she asked him to arrange a beer. Without hesitation, he said, "Madam, beer toh nahi mil payegi... magar whisky mil jaayegi. (Madam, there is no beer but I can arrange whisky for you)." When asked how he would procure liquor in the dry state, he said with a hint of pride: "Arre madam, sab setting hain... bas aap brand batao (Madam, we have an understanding you just name the brand)."
Apart from Bihar, alcohol prohibition in India is in force in Gujarat, Kerala, Nagaland, Manipur and Lakshadweep but it's often poorly enforced and observers say it has also allowed criminal groups to flourish in some areas. The next morning, the reporter walked up to a paan shop on Exhibition Road with a hidden camera and asked the owner if there was any way to get alcohol in the city.
"Ganja mil jayega (you can get ganja)," he responded. When the reporter insisted that she needed alcohol- either a beer or whisky- the shopkeeper said, "Jugaad se toh aa hi raha hai daaru (Liquor is indeed coming here through contacts and arrangements)." He also promised to get the phone number of a bootlegger. The shopkeeper at an outlet in the Maurya Lok Shopping Complex agreed to arrange alcohol, but d a very steep price.
The reporter went back to the Gandhi Maidan shop but found it shut. However, two men were sitting in the adjacent store. When asked about the availability of beer, initially one of them agreed to arrange it. But after conferring for a few minutes, they promised to call when liquor was on hand. While going back to the hotel, the reporter found the shopkeeper who had agreed to deliver whisky. He asked her to note down his phone number written on the store's signboard to order the liquor. He said that after a phone call and confirmation about the brand, he would ask the dealer to send the alcohol within an hour.
The shopkeeper then shared the rate chart of 750 ml whisky bottle and offered Blenders Pride at Rs 1,800 (usually available for Rs 750 in Delhi), Royal Stag for Rs 1,400 ( Rs 500 in Delhi) and demanded Rs 4,000 for Black Dog (that costs about Rs 1,400 in the Capital).
'NEXUS WITH COPS'
Once negotiations had concluded, he said "these days the rates are down, else a bottle of Blenders Pride costs Rs 2,500 in Patna." He then jotted down the address of the hotel where the reporter wanted the delivery.
However, to honour the government's prohibition law, Mail Today didn't place an order despite several calls from the shopkeeper. When the reporter was leaving the outlet, the retailer advised her not to drink and walk down the road as the police could stop her. When asked how suppliers were getting liquor in the state, he blamed a nexus with the cops. Mail Today contacted Additional Director General of Police SK Singhal, spokesperson of the department, who said, "You can't generalise the operation if some of the shopkeepers are supplying liquor."
Violating Bihar's prohibition law carries a penalty of 5 years to 10 years in jail.