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‘Rs1,000 crore business under cops’ nose’

Wednesday, 8 July 2009 - 8:39am IST | Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: DNA
DNA investigates the dark underbelly of the city to uncover the hooch economy & how it reaches people

WHAT is Hooch Bar industry
Hooch is a country liquor made at rustic breweries in villages and brought to Ahmedabad for retail sale. Such 'bars' are located all over the city, but for now, we are talking about the families in Kantodia Vaas in Geeta Mandir area, who survive by selling illicit liquor to daily wagers from these low lying areas.


The liquor is sold in plastic packets called theli / potli in the quantity demanded by the customer. On an average, sources in know of the functioning claim one customer would spend anything between Rs 80-100 in a day.


Extremely regular customers tend to spend slightly less.  The industry is functional 24x7, 365 days in a year. "Family members take turn to sleep for three hours each. You can ask for a theli / potli even at 4.00 am and some of the 'bars' will serve you immediately. Between 11 and 1 every night, there is no place even to walk in these lanes," Dinesh Parmar, a resident of Sutariya ni Chali says.


Who is involved


The main people here are residents of Kantodia Vaas, mainly belonging to the Devi Pujak Pattani community. According to residents of the area, hundreds of people come to drink hooch every night. Some get so drunk that they collapse on the road itself and spend the whole night there.


Significantly, though the bulk of the customers are labourers who spend 80% of their day's earnings on liquor, some customers also include affluent liquor addicts who find it difficult to afford India Made Foreign Liquor every day. Policemen in plain clothes are among the regular customers. The workers at the 'bar' are the members of the family themselves. Those doing exceedingly well, even employ some girls who work for Rs 200 a day.


According to residents of the neighbouring Laxminagar Colony, the industry gets heavy patronage from local policemen of Kagdapith police station. "There is a major demand among police inspectors and sub-inspectors to be posted in Kagdapith, even for a few months. Heresay has it that nearly Rs 7 lakh goes to the police station every week from Kantodia Vaas," says Girdharlal Vaghela, a resident of Laxminagar colony adjacent to Kantodia Vaas.


When it started
It is estimated that this industry has been thriving in Geeta Mandir area since time immemorial, but a certain history of deaths can be tracked over the past 35 years at the very least.


1978 - over 100 deaths because of Hooch consumption in Daulatkhana area of Kagdapith.


1985 - Juna Vadaj area - two dead
1985 - Delhi Darwaja - six dead
'90s - Kalupur - several dead
2009 - 16 dead and counting…


While these are registered cases, sources claim hooch regularly claims two to three lives every month, but because of the nexus between suppliers-police-AMC hospital officials, the cause of their deaths is disguised as due to some disease.


For instance, kin of one of the victims claimed the death of their loved one was being registered as tuberculosis, when he had a kidney problem because of excessive drinking.


Why it thrives
Simply because Gujarat is a 'dry' state and sale of alcohol is illegal here. But that does not mean there is no demand for liquor, and that Gujarat's enterprising communities are not smart enough to recognise this opportunity and make the most of it.


That the police force in Gujarat is completely in cahoots with the liquor mafia and that the bootleggers thrive singularly under their patronage is an open secret.


But why is there such a hue and cry over their operations? Residents of the surrounding areas, who are not involved in the industry or addicted to alcohol, are forced to face the nuisance of drunkards roaming their streets and harassing their women every day.


"There are two Hindi-medium AMC schools in Kantodia Vaas, which are as good as shut down. This is because the school premises are also sometimes used for selling liquor in the night. Moreover, the lanes of Kantodia Vaas are full of drunk men, who constantly harass girls and we are not prepared to send our daughters there," said Dina Prajapati, a resident of Majur Vaas.


Where alcohol comes from/ is made
The alcohol comes in a slightly raw form from the villages surrounding Ahmedabad, particularly Mehamdabad, Vatrak and Piplod. These are only some of the villages.


The liquor is served on the road itself under the open sky for most customers. For better service sources in the region say, that one can get the liquor to be served in magnificent bungalows which have been constructed out of absolutely ordinary houses, with every imaginable modern facilities like air conditioning, LCD TV sets, good food etc. The charges are upped commensurately.


The local public urinals are used to stock the alcohol, so even if there is a raid on the cue of a senior official without the knowledge of Kagdapith officials, it will be unlikely to nail anyone as liquor will not be found from a house. The thelis are also hid in gutters in case of a surprise raid. The policemen know this trick too!


How it is smuggled & distributed
The transportation of this liquor from the hinterlands to the urban poor of Ahmedabad is an interesting surreptitious process. The breweries are spread out in villages surrounding Ahmedabad.
They are unsuspectingly transported almost daily by womenfolk of the family, generally on their person or lugged in baggages.


Residents of Majoor Gaam describe that a middle-aged woman, clad in a saree would typically get off at Geeta Mandir bus stop and load packets of liquor in plastic bags on her person. They will be tied to her legs and torso, and hid amidst the folds of her sari.


She would then innocuously walk through the lanes - around 200-300 meters to her house. Interestingly, all this would happen around 5.00 am. Besides, big consignments of liquor are transported in GSRTC buses or AMTS buses, often with the knowledge of the concerned officials in the vehicle.


 


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