Facing flak from all quarters, including from their own party MPs, over the spurious liquor tragedy that has already claimed 113 lives in three districts, the Punjab Council of Ministers that met Wednesday demanded strong action against all those responsible while alleging that the excise and police officials were “hand in glove” with the illicit liquor traders.
As the Cabinet met through a video conference under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, a minister demanded suspension of a Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP).
The CM, however, it is learnt, told him that four station house officers (SHOs) have already been suspended as they were mandated to check such activities. The CM also said that the SSPs were recently transferred. As the minister stuck to his stand, Amarinder told him that he (CM) was the Home Minister and then action should be taken against him too. The CM also holds the excise portfolio.
Sources told The Indian Express that another minister too asked as to why the SSPs were not taken to task while it was the responsibility of the district heads of the police to check the menace. The minister reminded the CM that unless heads were made to roll, nobody would understand the gravity of the situation.
A few ministers are learnt to have said that the tragedy has come as an embarrassment for the government as it was not able to check the illicit liquor trade. They told the CM that it was the joint failure of the police and excise department.
While the police, it was alleged looked the other side as the trade was flourishing, the excise department did not check how the spirit, much beyond the permissible limit, was making its way out of the distilleries. The CM is learnt to have said that the spirit made its way into Punjab from Delhi.
A minister even accused the officials of inaction by stating that he had given information about spurious liquor traders but the raids were conducted three days after the tip off was provided. He also said that he had information of politicians’ involvement and demanded to know why no action was being taken. He is also learnt to have told the CM that the information about raids was already available with the offender.
The minister also said that the last hooch tragedy had taken place in 2013 in Punjab and the Congress led government came to power in 2017. But even after passage of over three years, the government was not able to check the menace.
Another minister said that the spirit traders were being labelled as kingpin of the trade while the truth was that they were not selling it for preparing hooch.
A minister is also learnt to have estimated worth of the illegal liquor trade in state at Rs 10,000 crore and stated that those involved in it had 14-15 cases against them. But there was no conviction and they were being bailed out.
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