The state excise department is a case of curious paradox.
On the one hand, it is arguably the most moneyed wing of the government raking in an annual revenue of several hundred crores. On the other hand, its main office in Ranchi — which monitors 174 shops in the district and alone contributes more than Rs 100 crore to excise coffers every year — is a run-down facility grappling with acute space and manpower crunch, let alone downright neglect of incriminating items hauled during raids.
A visit to the tiled, single-storey excise office and barracks near Kutchery Chowk brought to sight telltale signs of government apathy and disregard for diligence.
A locked iron gate, gathering rust and gaping at the bottom, indicated severe dearth of space in the lone storehouse of the excise office, which is supposed to keep hauled hooch, seized vehicles and confiscated documents safe.
A giant banyan tree on the premises provided meagre refuge to hundreds of apprehended two-wheelers and cars, otherwise left vulnerable to the elements of nature.
The chamber of excise inspectors and sub-inspectors were hoarded with trunks and wobbly furniture under peeling a false ceiling, giving it the semblance of a workshop than a workplace.
And perhaps never whitewashed in a decade, the barrack for excise constables appeared like a dark, dirty and damp cattle shed. A soot-layered solitary clay oven went by the name of kitchen for the unfortunate denizens.
Excise officials did not contest the observations and minced no words to say that thousands of litres of country liquor were sent down the drain in the absence of a proper storehouse.
“But, these are hard evidence in the court of law and sometimes we keep them in our offices until the hearing is over. It is a challenging task to keep seized liquor safe in a facility such as ours,” said an excise inspector, requesting anonymity.
Assistant commissioner of the state excise department and chief of Ranchi office Arwind Kujur too admitted the lapses, but hoped that the condition would improve. “Three months ago, I informed the excise commissioner and deputy commissioner about the current status of our Ranchi office. I hope action will be taken,” he said.
In a face-saving attempted, Kujur maintained that despite the odds, there had been no negative impact on their work. “Every year, we (Ranchi office) earn a revenue of around Rs 100 crore. In the last fiscal, we raked in Rs 132 crore, while in the first month of this financial year, the revenue has touched Rs 20 crore,” he said.
According to Kujur, in the last financial year, the excise office in the capital registered 717 cases against liquor business rogues and earned Rs 20.88 lakh in fines, besides seizing 17,000 litres of illicit alcohol and 3,930kg of mahua.
“In the first month of the current fiscal, we have registered 78 cases, earned Rs 1.64 lakh in fines, seized around 3,000 litres of illicit liquor and hauled 22,000kg of mahua,” Kujur said.
We can do better
Another official of the department vindicated his claims, but said revenue could be increased manifold if the city office had proper infrastructure.
“The excise office does not have a vehicle of its own. It depends on private car agencies to conduct raids. There is also an acute staff crunch. Against a sanctioned strength of 80 constables, only 20 are on duty. Similarly, against the mandatory 18 excise sub-inspector, there are only eight appointed. There is a need for six inspectors, but only four are on the job,” the official said.
The Ranchi excise office keeps tabs on as many as 174 liquor shops across the district. It also maintains strict vigil against production of illicit liquor, hooch and illegal supply from other states.