Smugglers have created makeshift dirt tracks cutting through south Delhi’s Asola Wildlife Sanctuary to smuggle large quantities of liquor into Delhi from Haryana, officials in the city’s forest department said.
The smugglers, the officials added, have broken down a portion of the sanctuary’s boundary wall, which happens to be right next to a conveniently located liquor store in Haryana to enter the forest using two-wheelers. They then drive across the border undetected, officials said.
Forest officials said that since the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown announced in late March last year, when liquor stores in the national capital were closed, large quantities of liquor are being smuggled to south Delhi’s Sangam Vihar from the liquor vend at Haryana’s Anangpur Village, located on the boundary of Asola Wildlife Sanctuary.
“Last year we caught several motorcycles with crates of liquor within the sanctuary, but when our teams approached them, the riders abandon their vehicles and escaped. This time, we have witnessed a similar scenario, but instead of vehicular movement now the smuggling is happening more on foot,” said Amit Anand, deputy conservator forests (south division).
Camera traps set up by forest department on this route have caught two-wheelers and groups of men on foot carrying bags and crates moving towards Sangam Vihar through the forest after sundown. The Asola sanctuary is home to over 20 species of animals including blackbuck, nilgai and jackals, 193 species of birds, and several species of reptiles. At least two leopards are also reported to have made the sanctuary their home in recent months.
Anand said that the union ministry of environment, forests and climate effected a change in 2019, making areas around the sanctuary, including Anangpur village where the liquor vend is located, an eco-sensitive zone. This means that only regulated economic activities are allowed in these villages, to ensure that the ecology and wildlife of the area is protected.
Police officials also said that most of the cases registered from Sangam Vihar over the past few years pertain to bootlegging.
Inside the sanctuary, from the broken wall, dirt tracks lead into thick foliage, which ultimately connects to Sangam Vihar, an unauthorised colony in Delhi.
Delhi police officials said that Sangam Vihar is a known hub of liquor smuggling in Delhi. Most of it is cheap Indian-made liquor, they added.
They said that since liquor is cheaper in Haryana , large quantities are smuggled between the states. The main roads usually have police checkpoints, so these discreet forest routes are used.
“Since there is little to no police presence in the forest routes, these bootleggers use these to dodge the police. Last year during the lockdown, we caught several bootleggers on vehicles, especially motorcycles, carrying crates of alcohol through the forest. During the lockdown this year and last year, since there was high demand and shortage in availability, such smuggling increased,” said a senior police official from the south district.
Police officials also said that most of the cases registered from Sangam Vihar over the past few years pertain to bootlegging. To control the number of such cases in Sangam Vihar, the police in 2018 encouraged habitual offenders to switch to legal businesses. Over 55 bootleggers pledged to switch to selling vegetables and milk.
Sohail Madan, centre manager of the Bombay Natural History Society at the Asola Wildlife Sanctuary, said that such illegal movement of vehicles is counterproductive in a place that is developed as a safe space for wildlife in the heart of the Capital.
“It is difficult to gauge the scale of this operation, but we know for sure that this is not for just personal consumption. These people buy large quantities of alcohol from Haryana at cheap rates with the intention of selling it. Nocturnal animals are especially affected by such activities,” he said.
Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder and CEO of Wildlife SOS, an NGO, said such movement of vehicles and people especially after dark impacts the movement and foraging patterns of wild animals and can do great harm in the long-run.
“We have seen similar illicit liquor mafia operating in the forests of Karnataka, where they brew liquor within the forest and transport it to other states. Discreet forest routes are used because these routes are not frequented by the police and the chances of getting caught are less. But when such movement of vehicles and people is allowed in a sanctuary, it not only is a physical risk to them but also disturbs their movement and foraging patterns. Most wild animals are nocturnal and they come out after dark and generally use the same route, all this gets impacted with routine human activities,” Satyanarayan said.