A bench of Justices M.R. Shah and M.M. Sundresh said the state is handling the issue with kid gloves and added that poor people suffered from hooch tragedies. It orally observed that no serious efforts were made to nab those involved in the business of manufacturing and transporting illegal liquor.
Citing the counter affidavit filed by the Excise Department, advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing the petitioners, said some action has been taken against certain distilleries, which included suspension of licences and levy of penalties or duties, however no politician or police official has been prosecuted. The bench observed that there has to be a deterrent and cancelling licences is not enough and asked the state government counsel to take the matter seriously.
It further added that in a hooch tragedy, downtrodden people suffer and not those who can afford whiskey, and many people have also lost their lives to the sub-standard liquor. The state government counsel said he would file a detailed report in connection with the FIRs.
The bench said an additional affidavit has been filed by an official of the Excise Department of the Punjab government citing steps taken against such distilleries and bottling points during the last year.
“We are not at all satisfied with the progress in the investigation…,” it said, directing the Excise Department to bring on record information regarding certain FIRs that have been lodged in the matter.
The top court made these observations while hearing a plea arising out of a September 2020 order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which disposed of a petition seeking transfer of some FIRs registered in Punjab regarding spurious liquor, its sale and inter-state smuggling, to the CBI.
It noted that allegations in the petition were in connection with large-scale illegal liquor manufacturing and sale in Punjab.
The top court also sought information regarding distilleries which were penalized or those manufacturing units whose licences were cancelled and the allegations made in the FIRs. After a detailed hearing, the apex court scheduled the matter for further hearing on December 5.