80 Years of Brewing Success: Jawan Deluxe XXX Rum’s Glorious Days to Controversies

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With its ageing edifices in the hedges, Travancore Sugars and Chemicals Ltd (TSCL), the 80-year-old, state-owned distillery situated in Pulikeezhu near Thiruvalla in Pathanamthitta, fails to impress you. It is one of the few public sector undertakings in the state, brewing success by producing a single item- the Jawan Deluxe XXX Rum- one of the most popular brands among tipplers.

Recently, the production at TSCL was stopped after three of its officials, General manager Alex P. Abraham, deputy PU Shahim and production manager Megha Murali, went into hiding after they were named as accused in the theft of extra-neutral alcohol from tankers transporting it.

TSCL, working on an 8 am to 5 pm schedule, used to produce 6,000 cases or 54,000 litres of liquor daily with at least 290 working days annually. A one-litre bottle of rum – costing less than Rs 50 in the factory – is sold nearly 12 times more than this at the state-owned retail outlets.

The theft came to light when 20,386 litres of spirit was found missing from three tankers that arrived from the Sendhwa region in Barwani in Madhya Pradesh on June 30, a week after its 84th anniversary of the firm. Every month, at least 15 loads of spirit reach the company and tanker transporting spirit would have 3-4 compartments, with a total capacity of around 20,000 litres.

Complaints of Low Potency

Following an order by Excise Commissioner S Aananthakrishnan, a State Excise Enforcement Squad (SEES), started a probe after complaints about the low potency of the “Jawan Rum” which led to the exposure of the scam.

As per Abkari rules, the ethyl content in the Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) sold in Kerala should be 43% v/v. The law allowed for a small margin of error. However, a chemical examination found the alcohol content in the liquor ranged between 39% v/v and 37% v/v. (v/v is volume/volume, a measure of alcohol content).

Incidentally, in November 2020, the sales of three batches of liquor dated July 20, 2020, were frozen, as per an order by the Excise Commissioner. Sample testing revealed that the alcohol content was 39.09% v / v, 38.31% v / v and 39.14% v / v.

The complaint, then, was that the Jawan Rum sold at a bar hotel in Kozhikode district had excessive quantities of alcohol. Those who consumed the rum encountered physical discomfort. An examination was conducted following a complaint lodged by a person who experienced physical distress after consuming alcohol.

The inconsistency sparked suspicion of the dirty game in production.

A Fraud without tampering e-lock

According to forensic experts, the fraud was committed with the assistance of the tanker drivers without tampering with the e-lock, located on the manhole valve at the top of the compartments. An alert would be sounded as soon as it has been tampered.

After the spirit is filled in the tankers, the manhole valves are locked and sealed with two passwords to open the e-lock. One would be given to the tanker driver, who would pass it on to the company officials after reaching the company. Then, the official would contact the firm that supplied the item for the second password. Curiously, the e-locks in all the tankers from which spirit was stolen are intact.

According to officials, the spirit was robbed from the tankers using a hand pump after cutting a lever near the manhole lock. The SEES found the crew had tampered with the dip volume meter that indicated the amount of spirit in the tanker. They had also destroyed the GPS enabled digital lock that enabled TSCL to track the spirit movement remotely. It is also revealed that the TSCL officials have never checked the weight of the spirit tankers or the quantity of the item in the compartments. The SEES found around Rs 10 lakh from the crew and 20,000 litres of spirit missing. The drivers “confessed” that they routinely sold spirits to a gang led by “one Abu.”

Production came to an abrupt halt after the police arraigned the three key officials as accused in the spirit theft case. Three persons, including two tanker drivers and one contract employee, are in police custody for the theft.

History

TSCL had commenced production of spirit from homegrown sugar cane on the banks of the Pampa river, in 1948. With sugar production decreasing, it imported spirit from distilleries in northern India. Soon it terminated distillation and became a blending and bottling unit. A large channel connected to the Pampa river remains a mute witness to the factory’s glorious days when hundreds of boats carrying sugarcane used to wait for its turn to unload sugar cane.

Later, the commercial production of arrack from the byproduct of sugar was also begun. Then the production stopped as the state government banned arrack in 1996. After a decade, LDF Government shifted it to the departments of Taxes and Excise and clubbed its post of MD and director board with that of the Kerala State Beverages Corporation (KSBC), ushering in a new chapter. Hence, Jawan reached the common man in 2008.

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