Women vigilante groups will be at the centre of Maharashtra’s campaign against spurious liquor. Facing the heat after 104 lives were lost in a hooch tragedy in Mumbai, the Devendra Fadnavis government in the state has turned to women for cracking down on illegal liquor dens across the state. Fadnavis told the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Tuesday that the state police were working closely with women vigilante groups to act against liquor dens. He said police officers were holding meetings with women encouraging them to report such illegal activities.
As many as 104 people had died after consuming spurious liquor in Mumbai’s Malwani on June 17. Investigators later found that the bootleggers had in fact served the victims ‘concentrated’ methanol, which resulted in poisoning. The state government has since ordered closing down of all such illicit dens. On Tuesday, the chief minister informed the House that “ordinary women” formed the core of this drive.
“Following the tragedy, the government has conducted 203 raids,” he said, acknowledging that women had stepped forward to help this action. “We have so far held 702 meetings with women groups,” Fadnavis said, adding that the plan was to turn some of these women into eyes and ears of the police. BJP legislator Manisha Chaudhary said the government should replicate Haryana’s ‘Gulabi gang’ model for action against the illicit dens. “We (the police) have also held 364 corner meetings, 1,177 other meetings to spread public awareness against such dens,” said the CM.
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He also sent a stern message to police and excise department officials that connivance in such illegal activities would not go unnoticed. While the government has already suspended nine police and excise department officials following the tragedy, the CM Tuesday said those (officers) found to have direct involvement in the Malwani tragedy would be made co-accused in the case.
The state has already slapped charges of murder against the accused in the Malwani case. “The state will push for capital punishment for the accused,” Fadnavis said. The CM said the case would be tried on a day-to-day basis in a fast-track court.
Opposition legislators had submitted a notice for a calling attention motion on the hooch tragedy. But with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party boycotting proceedings of the House, legislators from the ruling benches mainly spoke on the issue. Samajwadi Party’s Abu Azmi initiated the discussion, demanding a blanket ban on liquor consumption in the state on the lines of Gujarat. Communist Party of India (Marxist) legislator Jiva Pandu Gavit made a similar demand. Minister of State (Home) Ranjeet Patil, who initially replied on the issue, said the state government was positive about such demands and would review cases where such prohibition had been demanded.
The CM, however, later said prohibiting liquor universally in a state “when other neighbouring states have not would only encourage illegal liquor trade”. He announced that an IPS-level officer would now head the vigilance cell of the excise department. Complaints of rampant corruption and connivance of excise and police officials came up during the discussion. Shiv Sena’s Gulabrao Pol fired barbs at the BJP, claiming that illicit liquor was being smuggled into the state from Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, both BJP-led states. Fadnavis said the police were still on the lookout of three Gujarat traders in connection with the Mumbai tragedy.