At a time when Opposition has found an ammunition in the spurious liquor tragedy that claimed 110 lives till Monday to target the Capt Amarinder Singh led dispensation in Punjab, more trouble seems to be brewing with at least two Congress MPs petitioned the governor for probe by the CBI and the ED into the “illegal” trade in alcohol.
This comes even as the Punjab Police is looking for an absconding self-styled godman who along with his brother had joined the Congress ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
As per the officials, a network run by the two brothers Rachpal Singh and Gurpal Singh, from Dhotian village of Tarn Taran, had supplied the illicit liquor that was consumed by the victims in the Tarn Taran, Amritsar and Gurdaspur districts.
While Rachpal is on the run, Gurpal was arrested in Phillaur on July 9 with nearly 4,000 litres of “chemical/spirit”.
Patti Congress MLA Harminder Singh Gill, in whose presence the brothers had joined the party, in a Facebook post on March 26, 2019 had said: “55 Akali families of village Dhotian with the inspiration of Rachpal Singh Shalu, Gurpal singh and Capt Heera Singh joined Congress party. Vowed to support Congress candidate in Parliament elections”.
Contacted, said that many people joined the party during the election campaign. “But it doesn’t mean that I know all of them personally. I didn’t know their background. They were not given any position in party. I don’t know anything about these two brothers. If they are involved in this racket, then they should be punished. I was a candidate who contested without liquor and money. I don’t support any such people,” Gill said.
Meanwhile, Congress Rajya Sabha members Partap Singh Bajwa and Shamsher Singh Dullo targeted their party-led government in Punjab and alleged “clear-cut failure” on the part of the state administration and claimed the tragedy could have been averted, had Chief Minister Amarinder Singh acted in time on their complaints about illegal liquor businesses.
Bajwa, who alongwith Dullo, also met Governor VP Singh Badnore, said they have demanded a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) into the alleged illegal liquor trade in the state.
The MPs said the tragedy was “bound to happen” in the “absence” of timely action by the Congress government.
“Had CM acted in time, the hooch tragedy would not have taken place…. We have been highlighting this issue since 2017,” Dullo said, adding that it was the responsibility of the state government to act tough against liquor smugglers.
He alleged that there has been rampant inter-state smuggling of illicit liquor during the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
The two leaders said they would meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi and, thereafter, take up the issue with the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister. “We will also raise the issue of deaths of people in Parliament,” said Bajwa.
He said the chief minister or the police chief or the chief secretary should have visited the areas where people died after consuming spurious liquor.
In a letter handed over to the governor, the MPs said for many months, loss to the public exchequer due to smuggling of liquor by licensed distilleries, functioning of illegal distilleries and production of spurious liquor in Punjab has been in news.
“We have raised this issue as it shows a clear-cut failure of the administrative machinery in the state…. There has been blatant smuggling of liquor from Punjab to other states especially during the Covid lockdown period,” they said in the letter.
“The liquor mafia have escaped the clutches of law with impunity and are well connected to those in power. This nexus has allowed their actions to go unchecked and unregulated,” they alleged.
“Spurious liquor was being manufactured and sold all over the state…. Smuggling, functioning of illegal distilleries, production and circulation of spurious liquor cannot be done without the active connivance of officers of Excise and Taxation Department as well as Police Department. All our efforts to get these criminals reined in were ignored,” they claimed.
They alleged that the chief minister and his team chose to “disregard” these issues when highlighted by them.
They said the chief minister claimed to have acted against the liquor mafia over the last few months. “However, had the police and excise officials acted effectively, the manufacture and circulation of illegal liquor would have stopped and all the real culprits would be imprisoned,” the letter stated.
“Therefore, we request your good self to send a recommendation to the Government of India to let the Central Bureau of Investigation as well as the Enforcement Directorate investigate the production and distribution of illegal liquor in Punjab,” the Congress leaders urged the governor.
With ENS, Chandigarh
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