Hooch tragedy claims several lives in dry Bihar

Officials put death toll at six, while villagers say at least 20 have died; several of the victims lost eyesight, while others are battling for life; family members block highway in protest; three held

December 14, 2022 06:28 pm | Updated December 15, 2022 08:11 am IST - Patna

Family members and relatives of hooch victims grieve in Bihar’s Saran district on December 14, 2022.

Family members and relatives of hooch victims grieve in Bihar’s Saran district on December 14, 2022. | Photo Credit: PTI

Six villagers have died in a suspected hooch tragedy in Saran district in dry Bihar, the district administration said on Wednesday. However, villagers told mediapersons that at least 20 people had died in several villages.

The district administration has confirmed six deaths due to a “suspected hooch tragedy” in villages under the Masrakh, Marhaura, Amnour and Ishuapur Blocks of Chhapra, district headquarter of Saran district, in dry Bihar.

“Three people have been taken into custody,” Prohibition, Excise and Registration Minister Sunil Kumar said.

Family members told local mediapersons that the victims had gone to the Doyila village market under the Ishuapur block in Chhapra on Monday and consumed liquor on Monday night. “Their condition deteriorated on December 13 and five of them died the same night while others lost their lives on December 14 morning,” a family member of the deceased Ramesh Ram told local media persons.

Irate family members of the deceased blocked the State Highway near Hanuman chowk in Chhapra and disrupted the movement of traffic. They burnt tyres and shouted slogans against the district administration, demanding compensation for the kin of those who had died in the hooch tragedy. They also demanded action against those involved in the incident.

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“The death toll will increase by tomorrow [Thursday] as several critically people are undergoing treatment in private hospitals secretively for fear of the police,” the protesting villagers said. Reports suggested several of the deceased had lost their eyesight, others were struggling for life in different hospitals of the district. Among them, four persons have been referred to the Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH) for treatment.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar blamed Opposition BJP legislators when they raised the issue in the Assembly. Bihar has been a dry State since April 2016 under stringent laws.

When Opposition BJP legislators raised the issue of the hooch deaths in the Bihar Assembly on Wednesday, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar lost his cool. “Arre, tum bol rahe ho…chup raho. Sarabi ho gaye ho tum…tum log karwa rahe ho sab…kitna ganda kaam kar rahe ho…sabko baahar nikalo...yeh bardast nahi hoga (Oh, you are speaking? Keep quiet. You [BJP legislators] have gone drunk…you have been doing all this [hooch tragedies]…what dirty work you’ve been doing…get all of them out…this will not be tolerated),” Mr. Kumar shouted.

BJP members later created a ruckus inside the House and subsequently staged a walk out. They demonstrated outside the House, demanding Mr. Kumar’s “apology” for his “undemocratic behaviour”.

“Until Chief Minister Nitish Kumar apologises for his undemocratic behaviour, we will not allow the State Assembly to run smoothly…the way Mr. Kumar used unparliamentary language against BJP members on the floor of the House is not acceptable. The BJP has decided to boycott the House,” senior BJP leader and Leader of Party in the House, Vijay Kumar Sinha, said.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar responds to Opposition remarks on the Chhapra hooch tragedy in the Assembly in Patna on December 14, 2022.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar responds to Opposition remarks on the Chhapra hooch tragedy in the Assembly in Patna on December 14, 2022. | Photo Credit: PTI

The BJP’s Leader of the party in the State Council, Samrat Choudhury, held Mr. Kumar responsible for the hooch deaths. Other protesting BJP legislators blamed the “nexus between police and illicit liquor traders” for the deaths. “I’ll even appeal to the family members of those who died in the hooch tragedy to file FIR (First Information Report) against Nitish Kumar,” Mr. Choudhary said.

However, ruling party legislator and Finance minister Vijay Kumar Choudhury said there was “no question of Mr. Kumar apologising as he has said nothing undemocratic”. “We’ve liquor prohibition law in Bihar but still people are drinking liquor and dying, which proves that it is not right to drink and die,” Mr. Choudhary said, adding, “Opposition members often claim that liquor is available everywhere in the State but when we ask them to provide details of the sellers, they turn silent.”

The dead villagers have been identified as Vijendra Rai (46), Ramji Sah (55), Amit Ranjan (38),Sanjay Singh (45), Kunal Singh (38), Jaideo Singh (43), Mukesh Sharma (30), Naseer Hussain (42), Ramesh Ram (42), Chandrama Ram (48), Lallan Ram (55), Vikki Mahto (16), Harendra Ram, Ajay Giri, Bharat Ram, Manoj Ram, Mangal Rai, Govind Rai, Premchand Sah and Dinesh Thakur.

“We have detained three persons in connection with the incident and raids are being conducted to nab others involved in the illegal liquor business,” Superintendent of Police-Saran, Santosh Kumar, said.

Speaking to local mediapersons, District Magistrate Rajesh Meena said: “I have got reports of about six deaths and the investigation is on. We have also talked to the villagers and urged them to report fearlessly about illegal liquor trade in the area.”

The official record shows that about 170 people lost their lives in Bihar due to consumption of spurious liquor from January to November this year. Over 3.5 lakh people have been arrested and over seven lakh litres of illegal liquor seized after the State government implemented the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016.

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