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City pockets in grip of hooch sale

Hooch dens are proliferating not just on the fringes but in the city as well, said excise officials who have alerted police.

A meeting has been called on Tuesday at Lalbazar where a team of senior excise department officials, led by the commissioner Smaraki Mahapatra, would brief police commissioner Surajit Kar Purkayastha and his officers on the mushrooming of hooch dens in Calcutta.

Officers of the excise department, including a few from the prevention wing, have been asked to come prepared with all relevant data to the meeting, which has been called apparently after a nudge from Nabanna.

Sources said finance minister Amit Mitra, who also heads the excise department, held a meeting with senior excise officials on Monday and asked them to meet their counterparts in the police.

Sources in the excise department said the concern for Calcutta springs from the recent findings about a spurt in the sale of illicit liquor in the city.

“The illicit liquor is finding its way to the city from distilleries outside the state. It is bottled on the fringes before being sold in pockets of Calcutta, including Dhankheti and Paharpur in the port area,” said an official in the excise department.

Bengal has only one country liquor distillery, in Noorpur in South 24-Parganas.

Sources in the excise intelligence said liquor was coming to the city from parts of South 24-Parganas. “While in most cases illicit liquor is sold after being added with water, in several pockets the operators add colours to make the spirits look like beer,” an official said.

The excise team that will attend Tuesday’s meeting will hand over to the police “specific information” about the location of the hooch dens and how illicit liquor is routed to the city. “The meeting at Lalbazar will also discuss ways to carry out a series of co-ordinated raids,” an official said.

Senior officers in the city police said they were yet to come across cases of people selling illicit liquor ferried from outside Bengal. “This is something new. There is no way to find out (such sale) unless we have specific tip-offs,” an officer of the detective department said. “Even if we get to know specific details, a crackdown would depend on political will.”

Last year, around 1,200 people were arrested in the state for dealing in hooch. This year till now 800 people have been rounded up.