Turning the heat on illicit brew traders

The Excise Department is set to further step up its crack down on kasippu (moonshine) manufacturers in a bid to reduce its consumption, Excise Department Commissioner General D.G.M.V Hapuarachchi told The Sunday Times.

He said that plans were underway to eradicate the consumption of illicit brew in all parts of the island, by raiding as many illicit distilleries as possible and added that plans to eradicate the spread of the illicit brew would be made more effective after studying the results which would be out shortly of a survey being carried out in collaboration with the University of Colombo.

Part of the large stock of barrels storing kasippu which were seized during raids now lying at the Excise Department premises at Staples Street, Compannaweediya. Pic. by Berty Mendis

“The main objective of this survey is to estimate the number of manufacturers of illicit brew and to identify the percentage of illicit brew consumption. During 2008 we detected 56,510 illicit liquor manufacturing spots. This has drastically increased since 2003, when 39,767 were detected,” he said.

Mr. Hapuarachchi said that there were about 16,115 court cases up to April 30, 2009 against the producers of illicit brew. He said that mass scale production of illicit liquor takes place in areas such as Ja-ela, Wennappuwa and Negombo.

He stated that the department would not be deterred by any external force in carrying out its duty.
The plans to crack down comes amidst comments from President Mahinda Rajapaksa that he would wage an all-out war on those manufacturing the illicit brew and that authorities would particularly hunt down the main culprits responsible for the trade.

Earlier several senior officers of the Excise Department held a meeting together with Government officials to discuss the plans.

Currently there are around 55 offices around the country to detect illicit liquor distilleries and the department has a reward scheme where the officer who raids these places will be given 1/3 of the fine imposed by the court.

“Till 2006, the fine against illicit brew manufacturers was between Rs.1000 and Rs. 2000. However the Government increased this to Rs. 5000 after 2006,” he said.

Mr. Hapuarachchi

Meanwhile Excise Department Special Operations Bureau Superintendent Upul Seneviratne said he believed that the current legal system against drug and liquor producers was too lenient and has to be changed.

He said most of those convicted got involved once again in a similar type of business once they were freed on bail or served their jail sentences. He also said that some of the court cases could take as long as five years to be decided.

The demand for the illicit brew is due mainly because of its low price. The minimum rate of a bottle of Government licensed liquor is Rs. 565, whereas a bottle of illicit brew costs only Rs. 300 or less. According to Excise Dept. statistics many of the illegal liquor consumers were among the middle-aged and older men who were mainly from rural areas.

Mr. Seneviratne said that the illicit brew was highly questionable as there was no proper hygienic standards in the process of producing it. “Often the barrels containing the brew are stored in the jungle and the tendency for animals and insects to fall into these barrels is very high,” he said.

He also said that some producers deliberately add urea and mosquito coils in order to manufacture a stronger brew.

He said that in one of the recent raids carried out during the Vesak season in Wellawaya, it was found that the offenders were headed by a veda mahattaya of the area. The haul was thought to be worth about two million rupees.

Commenting on another raid carried out in Katunayake Mr. Seneviratne said “We went under extremely dangerous conditions at 2 o’clock in the morning, by boat to raid an illegal liquor producing spot in a tiny island in Katunayake, Negombo. We had to prove our identity to the Navy officers providing security to the area as they suspected us of being Tamil rebels, and we also had to reach the island on time before the suspects escaped. The estimated value of the haul was thought to be worth three million rupees. This was a large scale manufacturing plant where 24 barrels of the brew were being filtered at once.”

Novel method to fight the menace

The Excise Department has tried out a novel method of fighting the illicit brew menace by getting the assistance of youth in the village and the system is proving to be a success, a senior official of the Department said.

Excise Department Assistant Commissioner S.D.L. De Mellaw told The Sunday Times the method was tried out in Kuttikulam, a small village in Anuradhapura district where the success achieved was almost 96 percent.

He said that together with the youth organizations and the village temple authorities it was possible to almost completely stop the consumption of the illicit brew. He said that the villagers themselves took action against those involved in the distribution and consumption of illegal liquor by excluding them from social gatherings and also by imposing a ‘fine’ on them.

“This strategy was very effective because everyone is keen to participate in social events; and if permission is not granted such person would feel ashamed. Our department merely assisted with the legal aspect. The villagers themselves organized everything else and I think it is a good example which other organizations can follow,” he said.

Raids carried out

Year Number of detections

2003 39,767
2004 48,748
2005 45,993
2006 52,644
2007 56,476
2008 56,510

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