The Maharashtra government Tuesday declared its intent to crack down on manufacture and distribution of hooch, and also check any connivance by police and other authorities. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said the state would press for the death penalty against those arrested for the Malwani hooch tragedy, which has so far claimed 102 lives.
The announcement came soon after Mohammed Latif Khan alias Atique, the main accused in the case, was arrested from Delhi. The police have so far arrested eight persons in the case and are on the lookout for others.
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Simultaneously, the government issued a sternly worded directive to police chiefs across all commissionerates and districts asking them to take immediate action against peddlers of illicit liquor and not to spare their own men if found guilty of connivance. Eight policemen and four excise officials have already been suspended for the Malwani incident of June 17.
“I want to see the culprits hanged,” Fadnavis said, after discussing the matter with his cabinet colleagues. Senior officials confirmed that the public prosecutor in the case would seek capital punishment for the accused.
Later, the state home department said police chiefs had been asked to take up a “massive drive” in their respective jurisdictions to unearth any clandestine illicit liquor brewing and sale. “If you find the slightest evidence of connivance of police officers, employees take immediate strict action including suspension by following the procedure laid down by the law… Such action should be taken against those found to be involved or found to conniving, howsoever senior he might be,” the instructions from Additional Chief Secretary (Home) K P Bakshi said. The state government has asked the police to carry out drives with the help of local excise officials.
The home department’s instructions said such “businesses” could not have thrived without the connivance of authorities. “Such a tragic event cannot take place without the connivance of local excise and police officers,” it said.
The state government has already launched a massive crackdown against illicit liquor dens. “We have so far carried out 200 hunts. Investigating teams have been dispatched to Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh,” said Minister of State (Home) Dr Ranjeet Patil.. In the Malwani case, the deadly methanol used by bootleggers is understood to have been sourced from Gujarat.
The Maharashtra cabinet also appointed a chief secretary-led panel to inquire into the case. Further, to prevent recurrence of similar tragedies in future, the panel has also been asked to probe the misuse of methanol and other denatured spirits including chloral hydrates and recommended suitable restrictions that could be imposed on their illicit trade.
The demand for “sternest possible” action in the Malwani episode came after the Maharashtra excise minister informed the cabinet that investigations in the tragedy pointed to use of “concentrated methanol”. Patil later confirmed this, claiming, “All initial tests indicate that this is a case of methanol poisoning.”
During Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Fadnavis admitted that the existing criminal and legal framework had several grey areas allowing bootleggers to roam free. During the meeting, senior minister Eknath Khadse also suggested that bootlegging be made punishable under the stringent Maharashtra Prevention of Dangerous Activities Act (MPDA). Other Cabinet colleagues supported the idea. With manufacturing of methanol governed by the central Petroleum Act, 1938, the state also has plans to approach the Centre for effective regulation of its sale and possession.
Meanwhile, with all Mumbai deputy commissioners of police (DCPs) and senior police inspectors ordered to ensure that no illicit liquor is found in their jurisdictions, 234 places were raided until Tuesday and over 100 people arrested under various provisions of the Maharashtra (Bombay) Police Act.