A 28-year-old man was stabbed to death for opposing illicit liquor trade in his neighbourhood in Punjab's Jalandhar district on Thursday. Manish Luthra is the fifth man to be murdered by Punjab's liquor mafia in the past 10 months.
Earlier on Monday, 20-year-old Sukhchain Singh was murdered in Mansa district. In December 2015, Bhim Tank, a dalit youth, was murdered in Abohar. A Shiromani Akali Dal leader is an accused in the case.
An investigative report suggests that the liquor mafia is patronised by licensed contractors and politicians who operate in collusion with the police.
It explains that criminals and drug addicts are hired to undertake raids, set-up illegal roadblocks and also intercept vehicles of suspicious persons, including checking passengers' luggage in buses running within the state.
Their actions aim to ensure that smuggled liquor from outside their territory is not brought and in doing so they declare themselves as "excise staff" who are conducting raids.
"We have been given liquor vend contracts for crores of rupees. We are running in losses due to sale of illegal liquor. We have no option, but to groom such people since there is no respite from such activities," an anonymous liquor contractor was quoted as saying by Hindustan Times.
Responding to such a report regarding the liquor mafia, Amritsar Police Commissioner Amar Singh Chahal said, "It is true that there are men who work for contractors, but we don't need them to ensure recoveries. They do give us information or share a source but if they indulge in violence we will never tolerate it."
Amritsar SSP (Rural) HPS Khakh confirmed that police receive assistance from mafia vigilantes, but contradicted claims of organised violence. "Contractor's men cannot conduct raids or beat up someone," he said.
But other officials confirmed the occurrence of such incidents. Pawan Garg, assistant excise and taxation commissioner, considers it a serious and endemic problem that refuses to abate in Punjab. "In many cases, the accused get on-the-spot bail and started indulging in the illegal business again," the commissioner said.