Bought a bar of imported liquor chocolates or made some of these chocolates at home? You may be an offender, according to the law.
In a major crackdown, the state excise department last week seized imported liquor chocolates weighing 46.5kg and worth ₹4.31 lakh from locations in and around Mumbai. Officials said the present state excise and prohibition regime in Maharashtra does not permit manufacture, sale and possession of chocolates containing alcohol due to the possibility of them being accessed by minors.
In December 2019, a similar raid at Crawford Market had led to liquor chocolates worth ₹18,000 being seized. In 2012, a 53-year-old chocolatier, Preeti Chandrayani, at Worli was raided and detained by the state excise department for making chocolates containing alcohol at home. Chandrayani was detained for possessing around 20 bottles of alcohol without permit, and boxes of chocolates.
On August 23, 2021, based on a tip-off, a team of state excise officials led by inspectors Santosh Jagdale and Prasad Sasturkar raided a shop at Crawford Market where these chocolates, which had been imported from Denmark, were being sold. Some of these chocolates were retailed at prices as high as ₹1,650 for 12 pieces weighing 187 grams. A total of 175 packets were seized and one person taken into custody.
After further investigation, two locations — at Andheri East, where the importer was based, and Bhiwandi — were also raided. The raid at the Bhiwandi cold storage and godown unearthed another 282 packets of alcohol-laced chocolates imported from Denmark. A total of 46.5kg chocolates worth over ₹4.31 lakh were seized and two persons were arrested under the relevant provisions of the Maharashtra Prohibition Act, 1949.
A charge sheet in the case was filed in court on August 25. A fine of ₹75,000 was imposed by the court on the accused. Charansingh Rajput, superintendent, state excise, Mumbai city, said they had secured a conviction in just three days since the offence was registered.
“The concept of liquor chocolates is not allowed here… it is a prohibited product, and its possession is illegal and may invite action,” said Kantilal Umap, commissioner, state excise, Maharashtra, adding they had taken action after the sale of these chocolates had come to their notice. He added that the possession and consumption of liquor chocolates was disallowed as they could be consumed by those who are underage.
“(In Maharashtra) liquor is allowed only in forms like IMFL, foreign liquor, beer, wine and not in this form (chocolates)… if a certain form is not permitted, it automatically becomes illegal,” explained Umap. Technically, this means that the possession and consumption of liquor chocolates available at duty-free stores at the international airport is also an offence.
Umap added that violations could invite penalties like fines and even imprisonment up to three years, albeit depending on the nature of the offence.
Senior officials from the state excise department said that the manufacturing, possession and consumption of liquor chocolates fell in a “grey area.”
“As a policy, Maharashtra does not allow the sale of liquor chocolates. This is because they could be consumed at a mass level by children and minors and lead to social and public health repercussions… when it comes to consumption, there is a loophole as there is nothing that expressly disallows it,” an official explained.
He added that the Special Permits and Licenses Rules, 1952, had a provision for manufacture of liquor chocolates. In the mid-1980s, thought had been given to the formulation of a policy for it. However, this idea was dropped considering the pitfalls of allowing alcohol-laced chocolates to be available in the market on a mass scale.
“There is a market for such chocolates among the elite, but the trade happens in a clandestine manner,” explained another official, while adding that this was however not a mass market product.
Maharashtra has one of the most stringent excise and prohibition regimes in India. It follows a policy of discouraging liquor consumption through high excise duties and consequently, steeper prices that translate into low sales. But since neighbouring states and union territories like Goa and Daman have comparatively liberal policies and the cheaper liquor, this leads to it being clandestinely brought into Maharashtra. Maharashtra saw prohibition being imposed from 1949 till the 1960s, which led to the underworld get into bootlegging in Mumbai and the state. Although curbs on liquor consumption were gradually eased, legally, one needs a permit to possess and consume alcohol. The legal age for drinking Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) is 25 years, while that for mild liquor-like beer is 21 years. Possession of the annual or lifetime permit allows the holder to stock 12 units of alcohol every month (one unit includes 1,000 ML IMFL or country liquor, 1,500 ML wine and 2,600 ML of beer).
Two districts in Maharashtra—Wardha and Gadchiroli—are under prohibition. The prohibition in Chandrapur was lifted this year.