Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh Wednesday directed the state police chief to book those directly involved in the hooch tragedy that has claimed 113 lives, for murder. This comes a day after Amarinder termed the hooch deaths as “sheer murder”and vowed that he won’t spare the “killers”.
Amid Opposition resorting to dharnas and protests while demanding court-monitored probe, Amarinder asserted that he will not tolerate any political interference in “the biggest tragedy of recent times”.
He also mooted enhancement of punishment for spurious or illicit liquor manufacturing and smuggling under the Excise Act, to ensure repeat offenders remain behind the bars and are not able to come out easily to indulge again in the crime.
The directives came during two separate video conferences – one of the Cabinet meeting and the other a review meeting of the case with top police and administrative officials.
During the Cabinet meeting, as the hooch tragedy came up for discussion, Advocate General Atul Nanda’s suggested that a strict law like Punjab Control of Organised Crime Act (PCOCA) was needed to combat organised crime like illicit liquor smuggling.
The ministers agreed to the suggestion saying it a state like Maharashtra can have such a law why can’t Punjab.
Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), 1999 was originally used by the government of Maharashtra to tackle rising organised crime. Those booked under MCOCA cannot avail bail for at least six months.
Amarinder asked a sub-committee, set up under minister Brahm Mohindra, to examine the provisions of the proposed law, to finalise and submit its report at the earliest. He agreed with Sukhjinder Randhawa and other ministers that PCOCA could help control hardcore criminals and act as a deterrent to gangsters, who continue to deal in organised crime even from prison, and had close connections with terrorists too.
Amarinder also led the Cabinet in observing a two-minute silence as a mark of homage to the victims of the tragedy. As many as 113 people died in the hooch tragedy with 84, the maximum fatalities, in Tarn Taran, followed by 15 in Amritsar and 14 in Batala.
“Finish off this business, clean up the border areas. This has to stop,” said the chief minister in his directive to police and district officials during the review video conference earlier.
As per a government statement, the review meeting was attended by DGP Dinkar Gupta and Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan, along with SSPs and DCs of three affected districts and officials of the Excise & Taxation Department.
The illicit liquor business, using ‘lahan’ (raw material for making liquor), has been going on in border areas for a long time. But now it had assumed even more dangerous proportions with the new trend of smuggling from neighbouring states, he said.
Asserting that he wanted “to see an end to this whole business of spurious and illicit or smuggled liquor,” the CM directed the officials concerned to be extremely strict in dealing with the criminals. Reiterating his government’s zero-tolerance policy to illicit and spurious liquor and drugs, he asked the police to coordinate closely with the excise and other departments concerned to wipe this menace out .
Pointing out that the victims of the hooch tragedy were the poorest of the poor, Singh set a 10-day deadline for the deputy commissioners and police officers concerned to identify and process cases to provide targeted additional relief for their families. The chief minister has already announced Rs 2 lakh ex gratia to the families of each of the victims of the tragedy.
DC Tarn Taran, Kulwant Singh, said apart from 84 who died, 13 people are under treatment. He said the compensation announced by the CM would be disbursed Thursday. Children of employable age will be assisted for self-employment while widows will be given stitching machines and other assistance.
DC Amritsar, Gurpreet Khaira, said efforts were being made to provide immediate relief to the victim families. DC Gurdaspur, Mohd Ishfaq, said ration kits had been provided to the affected people.
IG Border Range SPS Parmar said cases have been registered under Section 304 (punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the IPC and the Excise Act, and a coordinated crackdown had been launched in all border areas to identify and nab the criminals and initiate strict action against them under the law.
He revealed that initially, the families of the victims in Tarn Taran, which had suffered the maximum loss of lives, hid the deaths and cremated the bodies without post mortem. Parmar suggested the introduction of colour coding for ethanol and other spirits to check their illegal sale and distribution.
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