BHUBANESWAR: The State Police gets all the flak for low conviction rates and high acquittal of offenders but Excise Department’s track record is a little more untidy. In the last four years, its conviction rate in excise cases has not crossed the five percent mark. Why? Because the department officials did not produce seized materials before the court in many cases whereas in some, they could not prove the seizures were intoxicants.
To put things in perspective, in 2015-2016, the conviction rate was an embarrassing 0.36 per cent. From 4.59 per cent in 2014-2015, the graph has declined to 3.62 per cent in 2017-2018.With conviction sliding down, the number of acquittals ballooned. From 8,991 acquittals in 2014-2015, it rose to 19,233 next year and 12,022 in 2016-2017. Last year, it was 6.127. The high rate of acquittals are attributed to non-adherence to prescribed procedures by the officials of the Excise Department.
According to the CAG report 2016-17, quoted by Excise Minister Sashi Bhushan Behera in reply to a question by BJP MLA Dilip Ray, the materials seized were not produced by the investigating officers before the courts. In cases, the officers could not prove the seized materials to be intoxicants.While low conviction rates embolden offenders, the Excise Department did not file appeals in cases adjudicated against it due to lack of evidence, the CAG report pointed out.
So much for strong prosecution. What’s more, the CAG audit found out that the seized goods which were ordered for disposal by the courts were not disposed of leading to blockage of revenue. “The Department did not constitute special courts to expedite settlement of offence cases. Further, it did not conduct mass awarenesss programmes to encourage participation of general public in eradicating excise offences,” the CAG findings quoted by the Excise Minister said.
While the number of prosecution reports filed by the Department is on the rise, the low disposal ensures that pendency is on the rise. During 2014-15, the total case stood at 1,49,920 out of which 11,742 were filed in the same year while the rest were old cases carried forward. In 2017-2018, the cases pending and carried forward was 1,12,225 whereas 15,534 cases were filed during the year. With a 3.62 per cent conviction, over 1,20,000 cases were shown as pending by April 1. In as many as 22 districts, the conviction was zero last fiscal. That has been pretty much the same story over the previous years.
Meanwhile, the State Government continues to say that there is no need for prohibition in Odisha. To a question by legislator Rabi Naayan Nayak, the Excise Minister said, prohibition is not advisable as it would encourage bootlegging since neighbouring States do not have prohibition. In such an event, imposing a ban on manufacture and sale of alcohol will promote sale of hooch causing loss of life.