IPS officer tackles Solapur's illicit liquor trade, rehabilitates tribal brewers

IPS officer tackles Solapur's illicit liquor trade, rehabilitates tribal brewers

IPS officer tackles Solapur's illicit liquor trade, rehabilitates tribal brewers

SP Satpute conducted counselling sessions to advise brewers in rural Solapur to stop the illegal sale of liquor (Picture credit - D Shrinivas)

In order to crack down on the generations-old illicit liquor manufacturing business in Maharashtra’s Solapur district, the IPS officer incharge is shifting the lives of those involved in the trade onto a different track. 

Solapur: A woman IPS officer in Maharashtra is attempting to do what the Britishers and the Indian police force could not.

Tejaswi Satpute took on the decades-old illicit liquor trade in the state’s border district of Solapur, and in just four months, has managed to show results that promise the tribals involved in the trade safe and respectable alternative livelihoods. 

Solapur, adjoining Karnataka, has a 150-year legacy of trade in illicit liquor, which is supplied to communities along the border area. Pre-Independence, the British deployed their best officers to crack down on this racket but no one could stop it completely.

The business, mainly carried out by the Banjara and Laman tribes, has been passed down from generation to generation, even as formal education and all other legal earning opportunities were largely ignored. The community, mired in poverty and illiteracy, simply knew no other way of life. 

When Satpute, a 2012-batch officer of the Indian Police Service (IPS), was posted as Superintendent of Solapur, Rural Police, she took up the challenge.

Since August this year, she has — through 'Operation Parivartan' — changed the destinies of 257 families, as reported by Solapur Rural Police Department, by weaning them away from the liquor trade.

“Without providing an alternative source of income, only counselling would not have worked in this case,” observed Satpute, who planned her course of action by prioritising three things: frequent raids, adoption of a village by each officer, and rehabilitation cross-checks.

Making the risks unviable 

For a long time, raids at liquor 'factories' in Solapur had not worked. A few days after each raid, the unit would be set up again and manufacturing would restart in full swing, safe in the knowledge that police officers won't visit again for at least a month.

Satpute decided to conduct raids twice a week, thoroughly destroying all the raw materials and equipment they would find.

Solapur rural police conducted regular raids on liquor producing units, using heavy machinery to destroy all the equipment (Picture credit - D Shrinivas)

With the sale of liquor interrupted frequently and in the absence of earnings, the brewers found it impossible to get fresh material.

Assistant Police Inspector (API) Ankush Mane, who is also deputed in the region and who 'adopted' Kamti village, explained: “Liquor producers incurred heavy financial losses because of frequent raids in which we destroyed everything. We also registered cases under non-bailable offences.”

“We arrested many big operators in the illicit trade which indirectly built pressure on the smaller ones,” he added.

These initial steps played a big role in the next phase of 'Operation Parivartan'.

Opening up new, legal opportunities

In the next phase, officers identified around 586 families in 102 villages that had been directly involved in the liquor business for generations.

Satpute distributed the 102 villages among 165 officers. The officers were responsible for stopping the illicit liquor trade in their adopted village, overseeing the raids conducted every Wednesday and Saturday.

In the later phase, each officer was given the task of searching for an alternate source of income for affected families after considering their skillset.

Satpute also found that more than 80 of these families had their own agricultural land but instead of cultivating it, they were utilising it to make liquor.

With help from agriculture officers, Satpute organised 'farm schools' where technical know-how was given to such families and farm loans were provided as an initial investment.

Where the tribal families did not have land, the police helped them in selecting a business or vocation depending on their skills, financial needs and the resources available in the area.

In four months, around 257 families have been given alternate sources of income such as auto-rickshaws, kirana shops, bicycle repair shops, weaving machines, food stalls, milk and sweet shops.

“We have not just given them good jobs, but our officers are even helping them set up their income source. Often, such new entrepreneurs face minor difficulties but my officers go beyond their duties to help them out,” Satpute said.

One erstwhile liquor trader, Datta Bhoi, who had the means to produce 100 litres of liquor each day, has quit the work and with Mane’s help started a small kirana shop in Kamti village.

“Because of frequent raids, I incurred heavy financial losses. I was frustrated but Mane saheb helped me raise money for my new business,” he said. 

Mane was key in visiting Datta’s relatives and requesting them to financially support him. The police officer assured them that Datta was ready to quit his illegal business and start a new one. He further requested the village mukhiya to help Datta, and promised everyone that Datta would return the money. He went so far as to contribute funds from his own pocket.

“Now I am happily living my life with my family,” said Datta.

(Above) Sudhakar Manjulkar and his family from Kumbhari village started a clothing shop and are earning a decent income; (Below) Datta Bhoi with API Mane in his new Kirana store (Picture credit - D Shrinivas) 

Similarly, Sudhakar Manjulkar, a resident of Kumbhari village, has started a small clothing shop.

API Atul Bhosle helped him raise initial funds and rent a shop with help from the local bank and the village mukhiya.

Konkan Gramin Bank provided him with a loan of Rs 50,000 to set up the store, in which the entire Manjulkar family is now involved and today they earn better than they did from the illegal liquor trade. 

Satpute pointed out that “most of such people were looking for a chance to leave illegal activities but they didn't have a way to move forward”.

Future of 'Operation Parivartan'

The new jobs are not easy for the rehabilitated families, as many admitted, but they are willing to push forward with a more respectable way of living.

Every alternate day, the police visit them to encourage them in their new business and to ensure they are not going back to their old trade.

One such rehabilitated person, Sathish Mule, who recently started a hotel, said: “We saw (liquor) as an easy money-making business but because of frequent police raids, we lost everything. It is now better to go with the police’s plan if we want to feed our family. We are also scared of being arrested.”

Satpute informed that so far not a single one among the 257 rehabilitated families has gone back to the liquor trade and all are earning decently in their new jobs.

According to her, 'Operation Parivartan' would be a long-term process. Her team is still at work, identifying more families looking to quit illegal activities.

And she has another plan; Satpute has approached Maharashtra Industrial and Technical Consultancy Organisation (MITCON) to train 30 such people in tailoring skills for 30 days. MITCON has agreed to her proposal and plans to also hire the trainees on an initial salary of Rs 9,000 a month.


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