The death toll in the latest hooch tragedy in Bihar climbed to 33 on Friday. Arrests were made and errant officials punished in connection with the sale of spurious 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 the 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 in hospital. They were residents of Dakshin Telhua village in the Nautan police station limits, where local people consumed liquor on the eve of Deepavali.
Pranav Kumar Pravin, Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Champaran Range, said the death toll in West Champaran rose to 14 with the four casualties. Seven people were undergoing treatment at the Government Medical College and Hospital in Bettiah town.
Hospital superintendent Pramod Tiwari said, “Among those who died, three were brought dead. Bodies are being handed over to the bereaved family members after postmortem examinations.” Those undergoing treatment included a 70-year-old person who lost his eyesight on Friday morning, a common side-effect of consumption of spurious liquor.
Mr. Pravin 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 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 died were cremated by their family before word spread about the hooch tragedy.
In Gopalganj, District Magistrate Nawal Kishore Chaudhary confirmed 17 deaths in the Mohammedpur police station area but said that only 11 of these could be blamed on consumption of spurious liquor.
“Three persons — residents of a village in the Mohammadpur police station limits — had been cremated by family members before post-mortem. Family members of another three deceased resisted post-mortem claiming that the deaths were on account of natural causes,” Mr. Chaudhary said.
Superintendent of Police Anand Kumar said Ranjan Kumar, the in-charge of Mohammadpur police station, and a chowkidar had been suspended, and three alleged sellers — Chhote Lal Sah, Jitendra Sah and Ram Pravesh Sah — arrested.
He said searches conducted in various places in the area had 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 galat cheez (wrong thing) during festivals.
Replying to questions from presspersons outside the Assembly, where he went to attend the swearing-in of two newly elected MLAs , Mr. Kumar 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. Leader of the Opposition Tejashwi Yadav tweeted attacking Mr. Kumar over the hooch deaths and accusing those in his governmentof being involved in sale of spurious liquor.
BJP State spokesperson Nikhil Anand hit back, asserting that it was the Opposition party which was working hand-in-glove with the spurious liquor traders but had the temerity to come out with “baseless allegations” against the ruling dispensation.