Kallakurichi hooch tragedy: Death toll mounts to 39; many in serious condition

| Video Credit: S.S. Kumar

Of the 120 persons admitted to government hospitals, as many as 82 are currently undergoing treatment; Stalin constitutes one-man commission to conduct inquiry into the deaths

Updated - June 21, 2024 07:43 am IST

Published - June 20, 2024 08:28 am IST - KALLAKURICHI

The death toll in one of the worst-ever hooch tragedies reported in Tamil Nadu climbed to 39 on Thursday, with five more persons losing their lives at Karunapuram in Kallakurichi district. While 34 victims had died by late Wednesday night, the remaining died on Thursday. The victims included four women and one transperson. In one house, three teenage siblings were orphaned by the tragedy. The toll is likely to go up with many victims undergoing treatment in serious condition.

Of the total 116 persons admitted to government hospitals in Kallakurichi, Salem and Villupuram and at JIPMER in Puducherry, as many as 82 are currently in treatment. Of them, 16 persons in JIPMER are critical.

People who had consumed spurious liquor being treated at the Kallakurichi Government Medical College and Hospital. 

People who had consumed spurious liquor being treated at the Kallakurichi Government Medical College and Hospital.  | Photo Credit: S.S. Kumar

High Court to hear plea

Amid calls from the Opposition for his resignation on moral grounds, Chief Minister M.K. Stalin constituted a one-man commission headed by Justice B. Gokuldas, former judge of the Madras High Court, to conduct a thorough inquiry into the deaths in Kallakurichi. The committee has been mandated to submit its report to the government within three months.

The Crime Branch CID has commenced its probe into the man-made tragedy. The government also moved out Additional Director-General of Police (Enforcement Bureau CID) Mahesh Kumar Aggarwal. On Friday, the Madras High Court will take up for hearing a plea seeking a CBI investigation into the incident.

The Government Kallakurichi Medical College and Hospital, where some of the victims are undergoing treatment, witnessed the visit by leaders of political parties, including Minister for Youth and Sports Development Udayanidhi Stalin, Leader of the Opposition Edappadi K. Palaniswami, State BJP president K. Annamalai, DMDK general secretary Premalatha Vijayakant, former interim general secretary of the AIADMK V.K. Sasikala, Tamil Maanila Congress (Moopanar) president G.K. Vasan, CPI(M) State secretary K. Balakrishnan and TNCC president K. Selvaperunthagai. Mr. Annamalai also visited Karunapuram, the epicentre of the tragedy.

At the Kallakurichi hospital, authorities found it difficult to cope with the rush of patients, who kept pouring in from the morning. Most of the patients were admitted to the emergency ward with anxious family members by their side.

As the count of the dead kept rising, anger was palpable in Karunapuram against the district administration and the police. Locals at Karunapuram alleged that illicit liquor had been thriving in the locality. The police did little to clamp down on the dealers, they said.

Main accused held

The prime accused who supplied the killer brew was arrested on Thursday.

Police said the accused, Chinnadurai of Sankarapuram, was arrested by a CB-CID team at Kadampuliyur in Cuddalore district. He is being brought to Kallakurichi for interrogation to identify the source of the brew.

The police have already arrested bootlegger Govindaraj alias Kannukutty, his wife Vidya and brother Damodaran in connection with the incident.

T.N. CM chairs meeting

Mr. Stalin chaired a meeting in the Secretariat in Chennai on Thursday (June 20) morning, where Health Minister Ma. Subramanian, who visited Kallakurichi district, appraised the meeting of the situation.

Ministers Duraimurugan, E.V. Velu, Udhayanidhi Stalin, S. Muthusamy, Chief Secretary Shiv Das Meena, Director-General of Police Shankar Jiwal and senior officials were present, an official release said.

The Chief Minister also announced a solatium of ₹10 lakh each to the families of the deceased and ₹50,000 for those who were being treated.

On Wednesday, June 19, Mr. Stalin had ordered the suspension of Superintendent of Police Samay Singh Meena and the transfer of Collector Sravan Kumar Jatavath. Besides, he ordered a CB-CID probe into the tragedy. The State government also suspended DSP Tamilselvan in-charge-of prohibition and Manoj, DSP, Tirukovilur and other officers. A State government press release said M.S. Prasanth has been appointed as new district collector and Rajat Chaturvedi as the new SP.

Subsequently, the police arrested Govindaraj alias Kannukutty who sold the liquor and a forensic analysis confirmed the presence of methanol in the liquor, an official release said. About 200 litres of the brew was seized from him.

Meanwhile, over 2,000 police personnel drawn from various districts have been deployed in Kallakurichi.

Anxious relatives of those who fell ill after consuming spurious liquor seen waiting in front of the Government Kallakurichi Medical College Hospital on Wednesday, June 19

Anxious relatives of those who fell ill after consuming spurious liquor seen waiting in front of the Government Kallakurichi Medical College Hospital on Wednesday, June 19 | Photo Credit: S.S. Kumar

Political parties call for action to curb production, sale of illicit liquor

| Video Credit: S.S. Kumar, PTI

Tamil Nadu Congress Committee Chief K. Selvaperunthagai on Wednesday, June 19, said the State government must use an iron hand to prevent the production and sale of illicit liquor.

In a statement, Mr. Selvaperunthagai recalled a similar incident last year in which 22 persons in Villupuram and Chengalpattu districts died.

“This has become common in districts surrounding Villupuram district. I convey my condolences to the families of the bereaved and wish those taking treatment well. I also appeal to the government to give proper compensation to the vitims,” he said.

In a post on social media platform X on June 19, Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) general secretary T.T.V. Dhinakaran said the police and State administration should take responsibility for the deaths, as they have failed to prevent the sale of spurious liquor.

Pointing out to the frequent occurrence of such incidents, he condemned the DMK government for its inaction and urged strict action to curb the production and sale of illicit liquor.

Tamil Manila Congress (Moopanar) president G.K. Vasan, on June 19, said the State government was solely responsible for the deaths.

In a statement, Mr. Vasan said “It is highly condemnable that the State government has not been able to prevent the sale of spurious liquor in Tamil Nadu. Ever since the DMK came to power in 2021, deaths related to consumption of spurious liquor have increased. The State government is solely responsible for such deaths.”

Mr. Vasan also expressed condolences to the bereaved families and urged the State government to provide special care to persons admitted to hospitals.

Mr. Annamalai has announced that his party would organise a State-wide protest on June 22, against the ruling DMK government for its “incompetence” in curbing the production and sale of illicit liquor.

“The deaths caused by illicit liquor in the past two years under the DMK regime in Tamil Nadu have decelerated the State by four decades,” said Mr. Annamalai and added that BJP leaders will visit Kallakurichi to share in the sorrows of the bereaved families and extend support to them.

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