"The youth will be finished," an anguished Supreme Court said on Monday voicing concern over the burgeoning illicit liquor trade and drug menace in Punjab, and asked the state government to fix responsibility on the local police for failing to keep vigil.
A bench of Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar asked the Punjab government to spell out specific steps taken to curb the production and sale of illegal liquor.
Senior advocate Ajit Kumar Sinha, appearing for the Punjab government, assured the court that the state is taking action and has already destroyed over 13,000 illegal liquor 'bhattis' (distilleries).
"We are not concerned with A government or B government. So far as Punjab is concerned, the drugs problem is increasing. The youth will be finished. It is very unfortunate that this is happening. Who is the sufferer? The poor people. Illegal manufacture and transportation has to stop because it ultimately affects the health and the society.
"If somebody wants to finish the country and more particularly from the border state, they will start with the borders. Every extra caution should be taken to save the country. Tell your government to be very serious. They have to take every effort to save the country, it is very easy to ruin the youth," the bench said.
The top court was hearing a plea arising out of a September 2020 order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court that had disposed of a petition seeking transfer of some FIRs registered in Punjab in relation to distillation of spurious liquor, its sale and inter-state smuggling to the CBI.
The high court had disposed of the plea following an assurance by the state's counsel that concerns raised by the petitioners will be duly dealt with and suitable action initiated.
Sinha told the Supreme court that over 36,000 FIRs have been registered in the last two years.
The bench shot back, saying: "You (government) are only filing FIRs, but according to you in every gali and mohalla there is a 'bhatti'." When one of the lawyers sought compensation for the families of those who died due to consumption of spurious liquor, the bench said it has to be a policy decision.
"Its is very unfortunate. But who asked you to consume the (spurious) liquor? Why should a common man who is paying taxes suffer?" the bench said.
The apex court asked the Punjab government to file a reply stating what concrete steps have been taken to stop domestic and commercial production of spurious liquor and how penalty seized could be utilised for an awareness campaign or increasing the manpower to tackle the problem.
"The state may also come out with a circular on effective investigation and enquiry....that if any illegal bhatti is found, the concerned local police will be held responsible for not keeping a vigil," the bench said and posted the matter for resumed hearing on December 12. The top court had earlier expressed dissatisfaction over the progress in investigating some cases of illicit liquor trade in Punjab and said the state is treating the issue with "kid gloves".
The apex court, which observed the poor were the worst sufferers of hooch tragedies, had directed the Punjab excise department to apprise it about the particulars of certain FIRs that have been lodged.
The petitioners had claimed in the high court that illegal distilleries and bottling plants mushroomed in the state where the liquor mafia continues to thrive.
They also referred to the August 2020 hooch tragedy in Punjab where over 100 people had died owing to consumption of spurious liquor.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)