CHANDIGARH: The hawk eyes of the Election Commission's surveillance teams nothwithstanding, the flow of liquor and drugs seems to be on ahead of Monday's ballot to pick a 117-seat Punjab assembly.
If the seizure of liquor and drugs - from leading makes to the local variety - in the last few weeks in Punjab is any indication, both categories of intoxicants have been freely supplied to gullible voters.
Sample this. Over 600,000 bottles of country wine, nearly 200,000 kg of 'lahan' (homemade country drink), nearly 17,000 litres of illicit liquor, nearly 2,700 kg of 'bhukki' (poppy husk), over six kg of heroin and other things have been seized by teams of the EC.
The Border Security Force (BSF), which mans Punjab's 553-km fenced border with Pakistan, and other agencies have recovered nearly 50 kg of heroin, a high-end, expensive drug, valued at nearly Rs.250 crore.
In the last 15 days, three major seizures of 12 kg, 17 kg and 14 kg of heroin were made.
Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi had expressed concern about drugs and liquor flow in Punjab.
"While liquor is a menace in most states, the supply of drugs in elections is a unique problem with Punjab alone. This is very concerning and we are taking steps to curb it," Quraishi said during a recent visit here.
Kuljit Singh (name changed), manager of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal candidate in Kapurthala district, 200 km from here, told IANS: "The flow of liquor, drugs and money is unabated. Though officials are doing strict checking everywhere, the consignments have been delivered earlier to the 'right' places."
Sukhpal Singh Khaira, the Congress candidate from Bholath constituency in the same district, had recently got a tempo-truck loaded with 183 cases of liquor seized by the authorities.
The liquor, allegedly belonging to an Akali Dal candidate and a former Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) candidate, was meant for voters.
"(She) is openly providing liquor to the voters to influence them," Khaira alleged.
Election Commission teams and police have seized liquor at other places as well. Nearly 65 cases were recovered in Mohali, adjoining Chandigarh, Saturday.
"Due to fear of defeat, the opposition is now playing unacceptable games with me. They deploy liquor bottles while trying to defame me. They have been frustrated by the support to me from voters," Akali Dal candidate from Mohali and former union minister Balwant Singh Ramoowalia said.
Though the government and Eleection Commission are unwilling to give exact figures of liquor sold in recent months, trade insiders say the candidates and parties had started stocking up consignments as early as three months back.
"The EC was very strict about consignments once the elections were announced last month. They disallowed a truckload of liquor from my factory to a distributor in one district this month saying the distributor had pending stocks. They kept a strict eye on all stocks," a liquor manufacturer, requesting anonymity, told IANS.
Over the last one month, EC teams have seized over Rs.33.16 crore of unaccounted cash from across Punjab. This included foreign currency in millions.
Over 211,700 licenced weapons were deposited with the local authorities in various districts of Punjab.
Over 1.76 crore voters are eligible to decide the fate of 1,078 candidates in the fray, including 93 women candidates.