Tinsukia: The controversy around the seizure of huge quantities of alcohol from ‘The Mirana’ hotel refuses to die. EastMojo’s investigation into the matter shows significant discrepancies in the seizure list prepared by the excise department and the police complaint (Ejahar) filed by the hotel manager.
On June 11, district administration and excise department headed by executive magistrate Niluram Sarma raided ‘The Mirana’ hotel and recovered a large quantity of alcohol, including foreign liquor, alleging that VAT wasn’t paid.
A copy of the ‘seizure list’, which is with EastMojo and signed by hotel manager Mrigen Kalita as a witness, points out that liquor was seized from Room 411 and 419, whereas, in the police complaint, the hotel manager has said that liquor was seized from Room 411 and 417.
The development assumes significance against the backdrop of a police complaint against the occupant of room number 411 and 417, Bhaskar Upadhyay and Lachit Sharma. Both are allegedly the employees of the groom for whom the venue was booked for illegal and unlawful acts committed by them, and amid claims that liquor was recovered from five rooms putting the excise department in the dock.
A source privy to the raid said that liquor was recovered from five rooms. “All the rooms were situated on the fourth floor. However, why the recovery rooms have been cut down to two remains a mystery,” the source added on the condition of anonymity.
The Excise case and the loopholes
Refuting the claims, the assistant inspector of the excise department Angshuman Rajkhowa, who prepared the hand-written seizure list, said that they have recovered liquor only from two rooms i.e. 411 and 419, confirming the discrepancy detected during this correspondent’s investigation.
It must also be pointed out that only one witness, who happens to be the hotel manager, has been recorded as against the settled procedure of law, making it mandatory to go for two witnesses in such cases. Even the signature of the executive magistrate Niluram Sarma, who headed the raid, was not taken on the seizure list.
When questioned, Rajkhowa said there was a commotion as a marriage party was underway, so they did not record a second witness. “EM Sarma’s signature would have made the seizure list watertight, but the absence of his signature won’t have any bearing effect on it,” he added. It may be noted that the rooms where the liquor was recovered and the hall were on different floors.
A senior lawyer of the Gauhati High Court, who has deep knowledge of excise matters, told this correspondent that as per Section 100 (4) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), 1974 minimum of two witnesses is mandatory. “The Excise Act makes it amply clear that procedures have to be followed as per CrPC law,” he said.
Had the officials gone for two witnesses, the seizure list would have been watertight. “Now, there is a doubt whether the seizure list will be accepted by the Hon’ble court or not,” the senior lawyer, highlighting the implication of going for one witness, told EastMojo and added that this is procedural impropriety on part of the team that conducted the raid.
Rajkhowa conceded that they did not check all hotel rooms and the raid was limited only to the fourth floor.
On June 11, the excise department and district administration raided ‘The Mirana’ hotel and seized 21.75 bulk litres of liquor and 33 bulk litres of beer and registered a case against the management of the hotel.
Responding to a question, Rajkhowa, who is the investigating officer of the excise case, said, “I have recorded the statement of the hotel management and the manager according to which the liquor was brought inside the room by the occupants of the room keeping them in dark. CCTV footage can be seized any time as it is available with the hotel.”
But 13 days after the incident, the investigation officer has not only failed to seize and examine the CCTV footage – which can prove to be important evidence, he is also yet to record the statement of the two occupants accused by the hotel.
Limit of retail sale
The Assam Excise Act, 2016 specifies the “limit for retail sale”. According to the said rule, the limit for the retail sale of foreign liquor is 12 reputed quart bottles, which raises an important question: from where did the two people accused procure such a huge quantity of liquor?
“Establishing the source of liquor, which is being recovered from various restaurants and dhabas, not holding a valid bar license, will lead to a mega scam,” sources told this correspondent.
The Mirana’s stand
A portion of the police complaint shifts the blame on two occupants of Room 411 and 417 and says: “…the said authorities while conducting their search directly went into room no. 411 & 417, and after entering into the room, they found some liquor i.e. Beer, Wine, etc, and accordingly seized them.”
The rooms were allotted to Bhaskar Upadhyay and Lachit Sharma for conducting a marriage reception, the FIR said.
“Our hotel does not have a license to sell or deal in liquor products as such does not allow anyone to sell or consume any kind of liquor, as found in the hotel premises in room no. 411 & 417,” the FIR read: Moreover, I along with other staffs also enquired as to how the said articles have come into the premises from the occupants of the said rooms, to which, the occupants of the said rooms admitted their faults and said that the seized articles are brought by them for their consumption along with the other guests present in the other rooms related to the marriage. Such illegal acts committed by the occupants who were the occupants of the said room has not only defamed the reputation of the said hotel ‘The Mirana’ in the society,” the FIR added, demanding punishment for room occupants for committing fraud and cheating.
Gaps in Police Complaint?
The hotel manager selectively named Bhaskar Upadhyay and Lachit Sharma in the police complaint filed at 12.10 am—within three and a half hours of the raid—but avoided the name of the host who booked the rooms and venue for guests.
However, documents with EastMojo show there were two occupants in each room. The question arises: why only two occupants have been named in the FIR?
Also, the photocopies of the guests’ ID card submitted by the hotel paints a different picture. A copy of the guest identity card had three ID proofs – Bhaskar Upadhyay, Bikram Puri and Lachit Sharma – with “411” and “extra person” words written on the page. Another page carried a photocopy of the identity card of Lachit Sharma and was marked Room 417.
The signature of Lachit Sharma on both pages appears to be different. A third page shows the identity card of one Agarwal Ramswaroop Surendra whose name appears on the guest registration form of Room 417.
The difference in room numbers in the two documents – seizure list by the excise department and FIR by the hotel – has raised eyebrows. Who were the guests in Room 419 also needs to be answered.
Interestingly, the host has issued a certificate, giving themselves and ‘The Mirana’ a clean chit. Rajesh Agarwal, uncle of the groom in the letter under the heading “to whomever it may concern” stated that a few guests among the room occupants brought the said liquor for themselves by concealing the same from the hosts. The management of ‘The Mirana’ are in no way liable for the possession of liquor, the certificate added.
Developments in police investigation
Talking to this correspondent, the superintendent of Tinsukia police Debojit Deori said the hotel management has not been able to submit any authentic or believable documents during the investigation. “The investigation is taking into account the CCTV footage, documents produced and other evidence gathered by the investigating team.”
When questioned, Deori said the discrepancies in the room numbers in the seizure list and police complaint will be looked upon as the investigation progresses. “However, what is important is whether the two rooms are part of the hotel or not. It has been established that the rooms are very much part of the hotel,” Deori said, “As such, hotel management cannot shred away their responsibility. We have already submitted an interim report to the district administration,” Deori added.
A police officer said, what happened on the night of June 11 at ‘The Mirana’ hotel is an open secret. The police complaint seems to be part of a staged script and those named in the complaint look like scapegoats.
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