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Excise dept puts tight lid on alcohol adulteration

Adulterating a consumer item is a common issue that could be noticed in any developed market. To make impure by adding extraneous, improper and inferior ingredients to gain more profit from consumer goods such as food and beverages is a punishable offence in every country. Adulterating milk with water in poorer nations in Asia as well as adulterating hamburgers with horse meat in leading retailers in the UK are examples that it could happen anywhere. Like regular consuming items liquor or alcoholic beverages are also subjected to various adulteration in Sri Lanka.


Deputy Excise Commissioner (Crimes)
Wasantha Dissanayake

Adulteration of alcohol even has a history of five to six decades following the introduction of legal distribution and sale of liquor products in the country in early 1900s. Since the establishment of Sri Lanka Excise Department in 1913 systematic methods were adopted to control the illicit sale of liquor products and adulteration. Adulterated alcoholic beverages are legal alcoholic products that have been illicitly tampered with by diluting them with water, purposely fill them in new containers to conceal their true origin or quality, or to add toxic substances to manipulate the qualities.

Habits

A large number of persons die annually due to alcoholism or excessive and unhealthy drinking habits. Out of this a considerable number of individuals die of consuming substandard and illicitly manufactured alcoholic beverages. And some die due to alcohol poisoning which could be as a result of consuming adulterated liquor products. Especially adding toxic substances such as Methanol could cause poisoning. Methanol is deliberately added to liquor products by illegal manufactures as a cheap substitute to Ethanol. In clean fermentation process Methanol is produced in very low levels but in unclean fermentation process it could be produced in high levels, which is highly toxic and could end up in death also.

Methanol

Alcohol poisoning could also show symptoms of abdominal pains, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headache or weakness, breathing difficulty or shortness of breath, seizures and sometimes blurred vision or blindness.

Adulteration of alcoholic products suddenly became the talk of the town with the recent detection made by the Excise Department in Hatton. A special team from Excise Head Office in Colombo raided a wine store in Upcot area and recovered 120 DCSL Extra Special arrack bottles that had been adulterated with water. The Excise on information conducted raids on two previous occasions but failed until they gave a surprise raid on the third time.

The strength or the alcohol volume of an adulterated bottle was 26% whereas the strength of an actual bottle of Extra Special should be 33.5%. It was learnt that the illegal traders have made five adulterated bottles out of single bottle of absolute arrack.


The data printed on the seal of the lid

Adulteration of licensed liquor products is a common offence that could happen anywhere. The perpetrators will simply remove the lid of a sealed tight bottle and empty half of the liquor and refill it with water. They will then fix a new lid to the bottle with the seal intact and sell. This was the common practice for a long time. But with this recent detection the officers who conducted the raid were bewildered by the methods used by the perpetrators to carry out the adulteration process. As an additional security feature the DCSL have printed the name of the company, the price and certain other data on the lid and on the bottle neck by using a computerised printer. Although one could tamper the seal of the lid and replace it with a new one, it is impossible for them to reprint the data.

Adulterated

All the seized adulterated bottles contained not only the safety seal intact but the printing on the lid and the bottleneck as well. The officers are yet to ascertain how the perpetrators have managed to do this. However they believe that whether the traders have used extreme methods such as heating the lid of the bottle to expand it and open and replacing it the same way having the printed letters intact.

Deputy Excise Commissioner in charge of Crimes Wasantha Dissanayake told the Sunday Observer that it is after a long time that they detected such adulterated liquor products since adulteration takes place very seldom nowadays. Unlike several decades ago there are a large number of liquor manufacturing companies in the country which has created a huge competition amongst the brands. Since there is a variety of brands there is a wide range of prices from which the consumers could select.

If certain product is increasing its price the customers could always switch to a different cheaper brand and the sales of liquor shop owners would still remain uninterrupted. This was a different scenario when there were only very few brands sometime back. The illicit products recovered from the Upcot wine store was confiscated whereas a fine of Rs.2.6 million was imposed on the owner. Adulteration of liquor product is an offence according to the Excise Ordinance of 1913.

It is categorised as a Technical Crime Report (TCR) or a type of crime that violates Excise license. All Excise license violations come under the purview of Excise Commissioner General. Unlike other serious crimes like production or possession of illicit liquor or plantation and possession of Ganja that could be produced in a court of law all the license violations are dealt according to the provisions stated in the Excise Ordinance.

Violations

Excise license violations can be imposed under various amounts of fines that starts from Rs.1, 500 and even up to several million rupees. A massive fine of Rs.30 million was imposed on a private distillery in Hanwella in 2010 for violating the Excise laws of not maintaining the same stocks declared to the department.

In 2013 the revenue earned by the government through the department from fines was at Rs.97, 725, 254 (Rs.97million). The department had carried out 32, 881 detections countrywide and out of that 6, 415 were TCR cases. Excise Department is considered to be the third highest revenue generator in the country next to Department of Inland Revenue and Department of Customs. It is also the third highest revenue generator in the Ministry of Finance. With the increasing number of detections every year and tightening of fines the department warns of stern action against adulteration of alcohol products that could lead to untimely deaths and breaking the trust of customers in quality products.

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