The death count in the latest hooch tragedy in Bihar climbed to 33 today, while arrests were made and errant officials punished in connection with sale of illicit liquor, even as Chief Minister Nitish Kumar called for a fresh campaign to dissuade people from drinking alcohol in the dry state.
However, officials in West Champaran and Gopalganj districts claimed only 25 of the deaths could be confirmed as having been caused by consumption of spurious liquor.
In West Champaran, alleged hooch trader Ram Prakash Ram, 50, besides Dhani Lal Ram, 40, Jhakkad Paswan, 64, and Vikas Ram, 25, died at a hospital.
All of them were residents of Dakshin Telhua village under the Nautan Police Station limits where local people had consumed liquor on the night preceding Diwali, the festival of lights.
According to Champaran Range DIG Pranav Kumar Pravin, the four casualties have raised the death toll in West Champaran to 14, and seven people were undergoing treatment at the Government Medical College and Hospital in Bettiah town.
The hospital’s superintendent Pramod Tiwari said, “Among those who have died, three were brought dead. Bodies are being handed over to bereaved family members after post mortem examinations.”
Those undergoing treatment included a 70-year-old person who lost his eyesight on Friday morning- a common side-effect of consumption of illicit liquor.
The DIG said, “Two officials – Manish Sharma, the in-charge of Nautan Police Station, and a village chowkidar- have been placed under suspension for their laxity. One of the alleged sellers has died, while another – Munna Ram – is absconding and a search has been launched to nab him.”
However, according to sources in the local administration, two others, who had died after consuming liquor, were cremated by their family members before word spread about the hooch tragedy.
In Gopalganj, District Magistrate Nawal Kishore Chaudhary confirmed 17 deaths in the Mohammedpur Police Station area but asserted that only 11 of these could be blamed on consumption of spurious liquor.
“Three persons – residents of a village under the Mohammadpur Police Station limits – had been cremated by family members before post mortem. Family members of another three deceased refused post-mortem claiming that deaths were on account of natural causes”, he said.
Superintendent of Police Anand Kumar said Ranjan Kumar, the in-charge of Mohammadpur Police Station, and a chowkidar have been suspended, and three alleged sellers – Chhote Lal Sah, Jitendra Sah and Ram Pravesh Sah – have been arrested.
He also claimed that raids conducted at various places in the area has led to recovery of 100 litres of spurious liquor.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, in Patna, vowed stern action against those found responsible for the tragic deaths but expressed dismay over people continuing to consume a “galat cheez” (wrong thing) during festivals.
Replying to questions from reporters outside the assembly, where he went to attend swearing-in of two newly elected MLAs of his JD(U), the chief minister said, “I will conduct an in-depth review of the enforcement of prohibition in the state. But, it appears that we need another extensive campaign to spread awareness about the ill-effects of drinking”.
Sale and consumption of alcohol were completely banned in the state in April, 2016.
Meanwhile, political sparring is carrying on over the matter. Leader of the opposition Tejashwi Yadav came out with tweets, attacking Kumar over the hooch deaths and accusing those in his government, including a BJP minister, of being involved in sale of illicit liquor.
BJP state spokesperson NiKhil Anand hit back, asserting that it was the opposition party which was working hand in glove with the illicit liquor traders but had the temerity to come out with “baseless allegations” against the ruling dispensation.
The latest hooch tragedy comes less than a month after close to 10 people had died due to consumption spurious liquor in Muzaffarpur district.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)