Mumbai: To prevent the diversion of spirit for making illicit or duty-evaded liquor, the state government is planning to make it mandatory for the tankers, which carry liquors, to use geo-tagged ‘digital locks.’ This means that these tankers can be opened only when they reach their destination. In a subsequent phase, vehicles transporting portable liquor like beer, Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) and country liquor (CL) will be covered under this project.
These GPS-tagged digital locks will do away with the present system wherein tankers are manually locked or unlocked, making them susceptible to manipulation. Once the vehicle reaches the intended destination, a one-time password (OTP) will be sent to the registered number for opening the lock.
Officials from the state excise department said they were planning to link this with a vehicle tracking system (VTS) to ensure that the tankers do not deviate from their usual route. This will cover vehicles plying within the state, those from other states which pass through Maharashtra, and tankers ferrying their cargo from Maharashtra to locations outside the state.
“The digital locks will be installed by us. The key shall be secret. It will be tamper-proof and shall be opened only at the final destination. Any pilferage will come to our notice,” said K.L. Umap, Commissioner, State Excise, Government of Maharashtra. The department will send the proposal to the state government for approval. After this, one or more agencies shall be appointed via competitive bidding to supply the locks and software. Around 200 to 300 locks shall be procured.
Umap added that initially, they will cover the transport of raw materials like spirits and then widen the scope of the project to include the transport of liquor like IMFL, beer and country liquor.
The project was discussed in a recent meeting with Shambhuraj Desai, minister, of state excise. Though the distilleries will have to spend on the digital locks and hardware, the department will pay for the costs of the software.
Maharashtra has around 140 distilleries, including 116 which use molasses, and 24 that are grain-based. The system will be monitored from the control room in the under-construction ‘State Excise Bhavan’ near the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) headquarters.
An officer said that at present, they sent personnel to escort the tankers within the state or in case of inter-state transport, to the state’s borders. “However, we are facing a manpower shortage. If a convoy has more than one vehicle, one constable cannot keep a watch on all of them. However, once the project covers the transport of portable liquor, the industry will have to re-engineer vehicles and ensure that they are covered,” he added.
In January 2017, the state excise department cracked down on a distillery controlled by a former MLA from Solapur. Between 1 April 2015 and 30 November 2016, this unit had allegedly smuggled liquor manufactured in Maharashtra and meant for sale in Arunachal Pradesh to the dry state of Gujarat.