At least 13 people died after consuming spurious liquor in the Gopalgunj district of Bihar, where stringent prohibition is in place, even though the district administration maintained that the deaths were not related to drinking of alcohol.
The incident unfolded in different neighbourhoods of Gopalgunj when people, mostly daily wage labourers and street vendors, came home drunk on countrymade liquor on Tuesday.
Shortly afterwards they complained of stomach pain and began vomiting. Their families got them admitted in the local government hospital; some even travelled to the neighbouring district of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh.
Later in the evening, they began to die, one after another, said the family members. Four of the victims — Jyotish Mahto, Arjun Mahto, Sashikant Mahto and Umesh Mahto — were from Nonia Tola of Gopalgunj town. The others were from Harkhua and other parts of the district.
Hooch freely available, say residents
A team has taken the blood samples and viscera of those who died in the suspected hooch tragedy and “only after their examination the cause of the deaths could be confirmed,” Rahul Kumar, District Magistrate of Gopalgunj, told The Hindu. Mr. Kumar also said he had formed a three-member board to probe the incident.
People of Nonia Tola complained that despite the total ban on liquor, it was easily available in the town. “Recently at a peace committee meeting with the district magistrate we informed him about the easy availability of hooch in Khajurbani locality on the outskirts of town, but no action was taken. Had they conducted a raid at that time this tragedy would have been averted,” said Pratyush Kumar Praveen, a student leader of Nonia Tola.
This is the first major hooch tragedy after the State government imposed prohibition on April 5 this year.
Meanwhile, the Opposition BJP leaders said Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has lost all his moral right to rule. “This incident has made it clear that liquor is easily available in the State and the police have failed to check it… Nitish Kumar is responsible for the tragedy,” said senior state BJP leader Nand Kishore Yadav.
State excise and prohibition minister Abdul Jalil Mastan said, “We don’t say there is 100 % prohibition in the State…there are still people who smuggle liquor from across the border. The guilty will not be spared.”