By Quaid Najmi
Panaji, Oct 4 (IANS): Maharashtra Minister's threat to invoke the dreaded MCOCA against persons who bring in 'even a single bottle of liquor' from Goa sparked off a fresh political ruckus with the Opposition parties alleging it as a potential new 'extortion style', here on Tuesday.
The 'diktat' by Excise Minister Shambhuraj Desai - intended to curb the growing menace of smuggling in cheap Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) brands from Goa to Maharashtra - failed to cheer tourists or ordinary folks who procure a few bottles for self-consumption.
Desai has ordered the Sindhudurg and Kolhapur districts, bordering Goa to work out a strategy against smugglers and slap the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, usually invoked against gangsters or for serious crimes.
For starters, the state excise authorities will deploy mobile check-posts at the entry-exit points between the two coastal states, supplementing the ongoing campaign by the police and Excise Department, and intensify efforts to detect vehicles 'smuggling' in the liquor.
Flaying the move, Congress General Secretary Sachin Sawant asked whether 'there are no other laws' that have prompted the state government to invoke the stringent MCOCA, and wondered "if even tourists would be targeted" or a 'Uttar Pradesh model' being implemented in Maharashtra.
Taking a swipe at the government, Shiv Sena Spokesperson Manisha Kayande said for getting just one bottle of liquor the government will slap MCOCA, but bringing an MLA from Goa would earn a reward of '50 Khokha' (slang for Rs 50 crore).
In a sarcastic comment, Nationalist Congress Party's national spokesperson Clyde Crasto said "good to know the Maharashtra ministers are finally getting down to some serious work".
"However, while a crackdown on illegal activities like smuggling is okay, it should not become a tool of extortion or harassment of the ordinary folks," Crasto cautioned.
Sena's Deputy Leader Raghunath Kuchik demanded to know "why only liquor from Goa is being targetted, and what about the Union Territories of Daman & Diu, Dadra & Nagar Haveli" - sandwiched between Maharashtra and Gujarat.
A Goan living in Mumbai, Albert Coutinho said he drives down to his home state every other month and would bring in a few bottles of liquor for home consumption, especially during festive occasions.
"With this new rule, ordinary people like us cannot take the liberty or we may end up being branded as organised criminals... We shall have to get our supplies locally," Coutinho said glumly.
Both Kayande and Kuchik wonder whether this is 'a target' set by the ruling ally Bharatiya Janata Party - supporting Chief Minister Eknath Shinde - to 'recover' the 'khokhas' (money) they had allegedly spent to bring down the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in June.
While Kayande feels the move could hit tourism in this state, Kuchik accused Desai of lacking knowledge of the MCOCA laws and offered to "gift a copy of the statute to the Minister".
Liquor vendors in Mumbai said that the prices of various IMFL brands in Maharashtra are very high compared with Goa or the UTs, the difference being up to 250-300 per cent, owing to the steep excise duties and local taxes.
"For instance, if a small bottle of IMFL costs Rs 300 in Maharashtra, it can be bought for barely Rs 100 in Goa and the UTs, making it a big attraction for ordinary drinkers or even smugglers," said Kumar A. Shetty, who runs a bar in Mumbai.
Referring to arguments that Goa wine shops provide a liquor licence to the buyers, Shetty pointed out that it is not valid in Maharashtra, so anybody found with any type of alcoholic drinks from the adjoining state could be at a big risk henceforth.