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Spurious liquor claims 36 lives in dry Gujarat

A man is carried on a stretcher for treatment after falling sick from consuming spurious liquor in Botad, Gujarat.

A man is carried on a stretcher for treatment after falling sick from consuming spurious liquor in Botad, Gujarat. | Photo Credit: AP

As many as 36 people died after consuming spurious liquor in Botad district of Gujarat, where prohibition is in force.

Over 40 people are battling for life in various hospitals in Botad, Bhavnagar and Ahmedabad.

With several more still in a critical condition, the toll is expected to rise in what is being termed the worst hooch tragedy in the State in the past 10 years.

The incident has prompted the State authorities into swift action, with multiple agencies of the Police working on a joint investigation, even as the State government that is poised to face Assembly election in the next six months is receiving a barrage of criticism from opposition parties.

Preliminary investigation has revealed that a few small-time bootleggers from different villages in Botad had made the spurious liquor by mixing water with methyl alcohol (methanol), which is highly poisonous, and sold it to villagers for ₹20 per pouch.

The police have lodged multiple FIRs naming as many as 14 people, including the six persons who have been arrested so far. It has invoked sections 302 (murder), 328 (causing hurt by poison) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.

At a media briefing in Gandhinagar, DGP Ashish Bhatia said blood samples of the deceased confirmed that they had consumed methanol. 

As per an FIR lodged at Barvala police station in Botad, bootleggers sold this chemical-laced hooch in pouches to several people on July 25 in Rojid, Ranpari, Chandarva, Devgana, Chokdi and a few other villages in Botad district. The deceased also included people from villages of Ahmedabad district as they had come to Botad to consume liquor, a cheap drink popular in rural Gujarat.

Gajuben Vaddariya, a bootleg in Rojid village, told the police that she had purchased 20 litres of methanol for ₹2,000 from one Pintu Devipujak, the FIR said.

“We have, so far, seized 460 litres of the chemical. Following a clampdown on manufacturers of illegal liquor, bootleggers decided to acquire this readymade chemical and sell it as country-made liquor by just mixing water in it,” Mr. Bhatia said, adding the Police have detected the case within 24 hours.

Meanwhile, the State Home Department has formed a three-member committee, headed by senior IPS officer Subhash Trivedi, to conduct a detailed inquiry into the incident and submit a report within three days, a State government release said.

Police accused of inaction

Since the incident, the State government has had much criticism from opposition parties, who have raised allegations of large scale bootlegging in the State, thanks to the powerful nexus between the police and bootleggers.

It was only in March this year that the Rojid Sarpanch had warned the police of the widespread sale of liquor in the village and urged them to act on the bootleggers. Dhandhuka MLA Rajesh Gohil had also written to the authorities seeking action against bootleggers in the area. 

However, sources claimed that the local police turned a blind eye for the bribes they allegedly regularly received from bootleggers.

As of Tuesday night, as many as 11 of its villagers had died from the incident.

‘Prohibition only paper’

This tragedy has once again exposed the reality of prohibition in Gujarat, where illicit liquor trade thrives in the villages. 

“There is rampant bootlegging of liquor, thanks to the nexus of bootleggers and police and patronage provided by the BJP leaders in the State,” said senior Congress legislator Amit Chavda. He accused the police of taking bribes from bootleggers as well.

Even BJP leader and prominent OBC face Alpesh Thakor said the State government needs to enforce the prohibition law in a more strict manner. “We have been regularly drawing the attention of the authorities regarding the liquor menace afflicting villages and rural areas of the State. The government must take exemplary actions now,” he added. 

Delhi CM and Aam Aadmi Party’s national convener Arvind Kejriwal, who arrived in Gujarat on a two-day campaign visit, also slammed the State government for bootlegging. He alleged that people selling illicit liquor enjoyed political protection and demanded a probe into the “trail” of money generated by selling alcohol. 

“The prohibition is only on paper in the State. The AAP, if voted to power, would implement the prohibition strictly,” he said. 

Mr. Kejriwal also visited Bhavnagar hospital to check on those undergoing treatment after consuming spurious liquor.

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Printable version | Jul 27, 2022 2:05:00 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/spurious-liquor-claims-several-lives-in-gujarat/article65684390.ece