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When buying jaggery raises eyebrows

Excise dept. asks store owners to keep an eye on its purchase

Dropping in at a neighbourhood grocery store for buying jaggery during this lockdown could prove to be a tricky affair.

And if the quantity sought is perceived as ‘unusual’ by the store owner, the buyer may even have to part with his personal details, including contact number, which may eventually end up with the excise authorities.

Anticipating a spike in illegal brewing owing to the extended shutdown of bars and liquor outlets, the excise authorities have asked grocery and provision store owners to keep an eye over the excessive purchase of jaggery, an essential ingredient of illegal brewing.

“Our local units are in regular touch with store owners who are best placed to identify such suspicious purchases. Illegal brewing seems to have shifted character from centralised large-scale to more decentralised small-scale units, making detection tougher. The phenomenon seems to be on the rise and we are planning a special drive to contain it,” said T.A. Ashokkumar, Deputy Excise Commissioner, Ernakulam.

The assessment seems to be not completely out of place as only recently a grocery store owner near Kakkand turned away a youngster who had come to purchase 5 kg of jaggery raising the suspicions of the owner. He chose to leave when the owner asked for his mobile number as directed by the excise authorities.

Even store owners who are not yet approached by the Excise Department have turned suspicious about some irregular customers. “It is not just jaggery that raises doubt but the other items bought with it. For instance, jaggery bought with yeast and bark alone is definitely suspicious. But since everything is bought in normal proportions we cannot deny them. There is also the possibility that they may be making similar purchases from numerous stores to avoid suspicion,” said Vinod Kumar who has been running a grocery store near Palarivattom for decades.

The seizure of wash used in illegal brewing in smaller quantities like 30 and 40 litres unlike in the past when it was seized in thousands has further reaffirmed the Excise Department’s assessment that small-scale decentralised brewing is the norm now.

“We are keeping a close watch especially in areas like Angamaly, Kothamangalam, and Kalady where illegal brewing seems to be rampant. Vacant bushy plots seem to have become brewing centres,” said G. Suresh Kumar, Assistant Excise Commissioner, Ernakulam.

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