Not convinced that its open raids are curbing the sale of illicit liquor in the city, the state excise department has now resorted to entrapment, planting ‘spies’ to lurk in popular bars and watering holes, pose as patrons, and try and extract illegal alcohol from the serving staff.
These spies have been instructed to ingratiate themselves to the service staff, and then ask for cheap liquor in confidence. The minute the blindsided staffer complies, they leap into action and raid the premises.
Unfortunately, the desperate move of planting these ‘secret’ agents hasn’t quite gone down well with many of the excise officers themselves, who feel that the measures are inappropriate and could lead to a backlash, once hoteliers find out. They also fear that these spies may end up misusing their powers and resorting to extortion, which in turn may tarnish the department’s image and weaken its authority.
A senior excise official said on condition of anonymity, “The inspection first started in the suburbs, where officers were asked to act on complaints made by spies, who would act as patrons and request for cheap or duplicate liquor, saying they needed large stocks for a party. For the past one week, the team of spies has been inspecting a few joints in Bandra, Andheri and Juhu. However, the team came back empty-handed, as no permit room owner gave in to their demands.”
The source told MiD DAY that these ‘secret agents’ are also doing the rounds of wine shops, where they ask for 2-litre liquor bottles, the production of which is banned in the state.
“Such inspection will put the department in trouble. These spies were video recording the guests at the restaurants on their mobiles, which is not the work of the excise department. This would put the team in trouble, and will also affect our revenue generation, if hoteliers and guests come to know that the department’s representatives are recording the premises on their phones without their consent. The bar owners will be offended if such steps are taken in the name of state excise department. The bar department is thinking of discontinuing the practice, but the spies haven’t been called off yet,” said a source.
Vinod Sikka, vice-president of the restaurant Some Like It Hot, one of the places where these secret agents had visited, revealed that he had no idea about the practice, saying, “The excise department does routine checks every month. However, we aren’t aware if they have sent their spies to our restaurant.”
Avinash Kamble, one of the ‘spies’ working for the department, denied his involvement, insisting that he works for a car company and is unaware of any such raids.
Senior excise officer Palve refused to comment on the matter, saying that superintendent Bodke was authorised to comment. Bodke’s phone was switched off.
Sudhakar Shetty, president of the Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association (AHAR) took strong opposition to the move, saying, “This is absolutely wrong on part of the excise department if they have hired spies to keep and eye on permit rooms. Already our industry is the soft target for extortion. Every now and then we face people who pose as media persons, CBI or fake cops and extort money. If the department gives powers like these to people, they will start extorting money. This in turn will lead to corruption. Who knows who these spies are?”
Kamlesh Barot, ex-president of the Hotel and Restaurant Association — Western India, echoed Shetty’s sentiments, saying, “This is an utterly medieval rule of spying on people. This is amateurish. Why will somebody who is running a business stoop to such a level? It is a ridiculous attempt made by the excise department. Taking videos of people is also a breach of privacy. This is just too wrong. We will take it up with the higher-ups if this is continued.”