'Can't compare chocolatiers to wine sellers'

Chocolate makers taken aback by excise department's decision to punish all those who purchase or sell alcohol-based chocolates without a licence

Christmas and New Year is just around the corner and the craving for holiday goodies such as soft-centred liquor chocolates have also increased. But for those who yearn for mini-liquor delights, there's some bad news in store, thanks to the officials at the State Excise department.

Sweet haul: State Excise officials nabbed 25-year-old Harish Pancha
Patel, a resident of Sector 15, Vashi for allegedly selling six boxes of
Anthon Berg and Cherry Kisses to college students

Authorities want all chocolatiers and shop-keepers who sell alcohol-based chocolates to produce a liquor licence and it doesn't stop there. If any person buying these chocolates does not have an alcohol permit on them, they can be fined or arrested under Section 65 (e) of Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949 that mentions that one cannot sell or possess an intoxicant.

Keeping tabs
And keeping that aim in mind, the authorities have decided to play party pooper this holiday season and go after all other chocolatiers who plan on selling the bittersweet goodies.

Sanjay Mukherjee, the state excise commissioner told MiD DAY that they plan on forming flying squads to ensure that people without the required permit will not be able to sell or buy the chocolates and will be heavily fined. "Anybody selling liquor chocolates that have a good amount of alcohol (see box) in it needs to seek a licence from the excise department. Also, consumers who want to purchase them will have to produce a drinking permit. Buying these chocolates is the same as buying liquor and hence, we have decided to crack down on all," said Mukherjee.

Elaborating further on the law, Mukherjee added, "Consuming a single chocolate is not bad but people tend to get addicted, especially youngsters who might not be drinking. In the Vashi case, the man caught for selling chocolates did not have a licence to drink and was also selling them to underage people. It is harmful and I request all parents to report any such cases. It is their moral responsibility to inform us of these cases."

'How absurd?'
But chocolate makers across the city disagree with the authorities deeming the law to be farfetched and ridiculous to say the least. "I was completely unaware of any such law and I think the department should define who fall under the purview of the law. Limits need to de defined and officials need to explain if a person who mixes one spoon of alcohol in their sweets will also need to seek a licence. Also, what about coffee shops and other places that sell these chocolates? Will they also have to acquire an alcohol permit simply to sell them?" asked a chocolatier from South Mumbai.

Andheri-based housewife Alisha Fernandez, who loves making chocolate, said, "If the excise officials carry out raids and fine people for selling/buying these chocolates, the entire sweet-dish business will suffer a setback as very few people in the city have a licence. Our government and our babus make weird, absurd laws and we have no choice but to obey them."

Another chocolatier grudgingly added that the officials were wrong to include them under the law as the amount of alcohol added while making soft-centred chocolates was very less and could not be compared to buying or drinking a bottle of alcohol. "As a person who makes chocolates, I cannot be put under the same bracket as a wine shop. It is ridiculous to say the least."

The incident
The entire situation came to light after officials acting on a tip-off arrested 25-year-old Harish Pancha Patel, a resident of Sector 15, Vashi for allegedly possessing alcohol-based chocolates and selling them to college students. Patel was booked under Section 65 (E) of the Bombay Prohibition Act and produced before Thane court where he was released on a bail of Rs 4,000.

Confirming that a man was arrested for selling alcohol-based chocolates, Prakash Chikalkar, excise inspector, Navi Mumbai, said, "We arrested Patel in October when we saw that he was selling these chocolates to college students. He was found carrying around six boxes of chocolates named Cherry Kiss and Anthon Berg in a plastic bag. After we received a tip-off, we laid a trap to nab him. After two months of hard work we were able to arrest him. We have received many more inputs and will make more arrests in the future. Meanwhile, we have sent the chocolates for testing and are waiting for the reports, which will confirm the quantity of alcohol in the chocolates."

Where to get a permit
The alcohol permit can be obtained from the excise offices in various locations like Andheri, Chunabhatti, Chembur, Malwani, Bandra East, Old Customs House and others.

If found guilty
Drinking without permit is a cognisable and bailable offence. There are various penalties depending on the circumstances and factors, like the quantity of liquor involved. The offence can attract a maximum fine of Rs 50,000 and imprisonment up to five years. The magnitude of the penalty puts drinking in the same grade of a crime such as assault or rioting.

How much is too much?
Mukherjee said that if the chocolates have a soft-centre filled with alcohol that would attract a fine or a punishment. One who uses a mere 1 ml of alcohol for the chocolates will not be liable to be punished. For example, he explained that when rum is used to prepare a cake, it would not attract any punishment as the sponge is merely soaked in alcohol.

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