One more person died in Gujarat’s Surat district after consuming suspected hooch on Monday, taking the toll to 20. Three policemen were suspended Monday for their alleged inaction in preventing the tragedy at Vareli village in Surat. Surat Range IG N N Komar suspended Inspector Hasmukh Bharwad, Assistant Sub-Inspector Anil Tulsiram and Head Constable Jayatibhai Vazir, all attached to Kadodara police station, for dereliction of duty.
The state government on Monday announced that these deaths will be investigated by Gujarat Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS). The announcement comes barely two days after the government ordered to set up a three-member inquiry committee, headed by an IPS officer, to look into the incident.
The state government has asked the ATS to find out the source of methanol, a highly toxic substance which is said to be responsible for the tragedy. The government has not officially termed the incident as a hooch tragedy and referred to it as “unnatural deaths”.
Till Saturday evening, 15 people had died in the span of a few days due to the consumption of spurious liquor. Four more people died on Saturday and Sunday night, taking the toll to 19. On Monday, one more person, identified as Guddu Dharamdev Prasad (31), who was admitted to the New Civil hospital on Sunday, died. Police said Guddu, who hails from Uttar Pradesh, was working at a textile factory in Vareli village.
Vareli village observed a bandh to protest these deaths. The bandh was called by Surat district Congress whose leaders held a public meeting. Gujarat Kshatriya-Thakor Sena president Alpesh Thakor, who has been campaigning against drinking, also visited the village and met the family members of the deceased. He demanded that the state government should give minimum Rs 4 lakh as compensation to the family members of the deceased.
Congress leader and former Union minister Tushar Chaudhary, along with Congress MLA Anand Chaudhary and party workers, visited Vareli and also met the family members of the deceased. Shops and establishments remained closed during the first half of the day due to the bandh.
On Sunday, two men — identified as Mangu Bhangar Rathod (40) and Jayesh Rathod (30) — both residents of Vareli’s neighbouring Harinagar village, died at SMIMER hospital. Both had consumed liquor on Saturday night, said sources in Kadodara police.
At the public meeting, Tushar Chaudhary said, “For the last few days, people have been dying due to consumption of spurious liquor every day and no action has been taken against the police officials under whose jurisdiction the incident took place. The state government has only announced compensation amount of Rs 10,000 to the family members of the deceased. The police officials are responsible for these deaths but no legal action has been taken against them. Gujarat is among the top tax-payer states in the country and here the compensation amount is only Rs 10,000. If the liquor nuisance doesn’t stop in two days, the women’s wing of Congress will carry out raids on liquor dens.”
Addressing mediapersons, Gujarat Kshatriya-Thakor Sena president Alpesh Thakor said, “The Halpati community should now give up liquor consumption and the police should act strictly to remove all liquor dens in the villages. The state government should give Rs 4 lakh as compensation to the family members of the deceased. Strict legal action should be taken against the police officials who allowed the liquor dens to continue business in Vareli.”
District administrative officials have started doing door-to-door survey in Vareli. Five persons are still admitted at SMIMER hospital in Surat city and their condition is reported to be critical.
According to a press release issued on Monday, State Home Minister Pradipsinh Jadeja has announced to hand over the probe of the case to the Superintendent of Police, ATS, Himanshu Shukla. The release states, “ATS SP will investigate the unnatural deaths suspected to have been caused by spurious liquor.”
The release states that the investigation will be done to ascertain the use of methanol, from where it was procured, who was distributing it, among others. On the other hand, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani held a video-conferece with senior police officers and told them to implement 100% prohibition in the wake of the Surat incident.
With inputs from PTI.