In response to growing public displeasure, the competent authority responsible for regulating the country’s liquor industry has finally decided to crack down on the illegal synthetic toddy trade immediately, the Daily Mirror learns.
Having shown a rather ‘lethargic response’ towards a series of detections made, especially by the Police Special Task Force (STF) on artificial toddy in the recent past, the top Excise officials stationed countrywide have been ordered to gear up to end the illicit and hazardous industry starting today.
Excise Commissioner-General H.G Sumanasinghe issuing a special circular last week had given explicit instructions to all Assistant Commissioners in charge of the nine provinces to strictly enforce the law when it comes to the synthetic toddy industry.
Corroborating its latest move, the department’s spokesman, Deputy Excise Commissioner Kapila Kumarasinghe told the Daily Mirror last night that they had taken this decision considering the growing public displeasure towards the department for not acting on the artificial toddy trade.
“We had been receiving numerous allegations from various quarters of society during the past few months that adequate action was not being taken against the synthetic toddy industry.
People from all walks of life ranging from clergy to social activists as well as liquor industry giants were blaming the department for its inaction and letting the illegal toddy trade to flourish,” he said.
The spokesman said following the special circular sent by the Excise chief to all provincial heads, the law dealing with manufacturing, transporting, distributing and sale of artificially enhanced toddy will be strictly enforced.
The Assistant Commissioners had also been clearly instructed to intensify the monitoring system on toddy manufacturing, carry out routine checking on licensed toddy producers to verify if they adhere to the standards, to perform frequent quality checks on each and every licensed toddy manufacturer and to perform a technical crime report (TCR) and act strictly on those who engage in the synthetic toddy trade sans a permit.
The Deputy Commissioner, however, expressed his doubts of the practicality of steps taken towards cracking down on the industry as a majority of the authorised liquor (arrack) industry in Sri Lanka is currently solely dependent on artificial toddy supplies.
Coconut spirits or toddy has been used for hundreds of years to manufacture arrack, a beverage unique to Sri Lanka but similar to the vodka, rum or whiskey that represent the global regions of Russia, Caribbean islands, the UK or US.
Apart from tapping the coconut sap for the direct consumption of toddy as a natural local drink, the spirit was collected to manufacture arrack, which is a processed and distilled end product of a clear drink that came under a variety of labels, flavours and volumes of strength since the British colonisation era.
However, the problem started when the remaining coconut trees in the country, especially in the coastal region, were gradually dying with time and the supply of toddy was decreasing drastically.
Although the consumption of authorised liquor sales goes up every year, one of the key ingredients required to manufacture liquor, which is toddy, was declining fast. Therefore, the licensed suppliers had to resort to unlawful means of producing artificial or synthetic toddy to maintain their supplies to the arrack industry.
Mr. Kumarasinghe said though this issue was evident for the past eight to ten years no alternative solution could be seen but to enforce the law as and when in the instances of seizing artificial toddy.
“Many people charged that Excise was only imposing an arbitrary fine on the synthetic toddy manufactures instead of revoking their license. We usually imposed the Excise fine as it was a big amount of Rs.500,000 and if a regular court of law would impose a fine, it would be merely Rs.100,000,” he said.
Thus, concerning the severity of the health hazards of the artificial toddy industry and social issues connected to that, the Department of Excise had decided to terminate the artificial toddy trade.
“This will be officially and publicly announced today by the department,” he further said. (Kurulu Koojana Kariyakarawana)