At least 41 people have died in three districts of Punjab’s Majha region allegedly after consuming spurious liquor in the last two days. As death toll mounted on Friday, Punjab CM Amarinder Singh ordered a magisterial probe into the deaths to be conducted by Divisional Commissioner, Jalandhar.
Till Friday evening, 11 deaths were confirmed in Amritsar. Two villages, Muchhal and Tangra, in Amritsar had reported 7 deaths on Thursday, while 4 more fatalities were confirmed on Friday. In separate cases, 11 deaths due to alleged consumption of spurious liquor were reported from Batala in Gurdaspur district and 19 from Tarn Taran. According to SDM, Tarn Taran, Rajneesh Arora, six more people are critical in the district.
DGP Dinkar Gupta Friday said that the death toll could rise further as the spurious liquor network was evidently spread across many areas.
Just like bodies of five deceased in Amritsar were cremated without post-mortem on Thursday, last rites of a few bodies in Batala and Tarn Taran too were performed without autopsy on Friday. Around noon, a Punjab government press note said that dead in these cases will not be cremated without a post-mortem.
CM Amarinder Singh said that the inquiry will look into the facts and circumstances leading to incidents, as well as into any other issues connected or relevant to the incidents. The probe will be conducted by Divisional Commissioner, Jalandhar, along with Joint Excise & Taxation Commissioner Punjab, and SPs (Investigation) of the concerned districts, according to a state government spokesperson.
Promising strict action against anyone found complicit in the case, the CM directed police to launch a search operation to crack down on any spurious liquor manufacturing unit operating in the state.
It may be recalled that the Punjab Police had seized a whopping 8.32 lakh litres of lahan (raw material mixed for distillation of illicit liquor) in the middle of June in a drive titled Operation Red Rose. The drive had led to registration of 3,490 cases under the Excise Act and arrests of 2,664 accused. Earlier in the 40-day period of lockdown, 1.81 lakh litres of lahan was seized.
On Friday, Punjab Police arrested seven bootleggers from Amritsar, Batala and Tarn Taran districts in over 40 raids conducted by five teams led by senior officers. The total number of persons apprehended so far in the spurious liquor deaths case has gone up to eight, including Balwinder Kaur, who was arrested Thursday night from Muchhal village in Amritsar.
DGP Dinkar Gupta said a huge quantity of spurious liquor, drums, storage cans etc have been recovered from the accused and the same have been sent for chemical analysis to check for constituents of spurious liquor. More arrests are likely, he said, adding that raids were continuing and the police teams would continue to crack down on all those involved in the case to unravel the extend of the spurious liquor mafia operating in the region.
While two persons, Balwinder Kaur and Mithu, were arrested from Amritsar (Rural) district, another two persons identified as Darshan Rani and Rajan were nabbed from Batala district. Four others — Kashmir Singh, Angrez Singh, Amarjit and Baljit — have been arrested from Tarn Taran.
Mithu, who was arrested from village Jasso Nangal, Police Station Khilchian, Friday has admitted to his role in the supply of spurious liquor, said the DGP.
The state police chief revealed that FIR no. 253, dated July 31, has been registered under Sections 304, 307 and 120 of the IPC at Police Station Sadar Tarn Taran against the four accused arrested from the district. He added that these bootleggers had admitted to supplying spurious liquor in village Norangabad.
According to the police, first five fatalities were reported from Mucchal and Tangra villages in Amritsar on the intervening night of Wednesday and Thursday. On Thursday evening, two more people died under suspicious circumstances in Muchhal, and one person died at Sri Guru Ram Das Hospital in Amritsar after being shifted from Tangra. Batala too had reported two fatalities linked to consumption of illicit liquor on Thursday.
On Friday, 9 more persons died in Batala, taking the death toll in the town to 11, while 19 spurious liquor related deaths were reported from Tarn Taran.
Meanwhile, opposition parties in Punjab lashed out against the Capt Amarinder Singh government for the alleged lapses which led to death linked to consumption of illicit liquor and demanded a high-level independent inquiry into the incidents.
“The Congress has been in power for 42 months but it has not been able to do anything about either drugs menace or the illicit liquor menace. It is surprising that even after Cabinet ministers targeted the then Chief Secretary over illegal liquor trade, the government has not been able to do anything to stop the menace,” sais Tarun Chugh, national secretary of BJP.
Chugh added that an independent authority should probe the nexus of the liquor mafia in Punjab.
Senior AAP leader and Sunam MLA Aman Arora said that the liquor tragedy was direct result of the failure of the Chief Minister to tackle the menace of illicit liquor as he was also the minister responsible for Excise and Taxation Department.
“The issue of illegal liquor trade and illicit liquor in Punjab has been raised time and again. A sub-committee too had been formed by the CM to look into the matter but nothing has come of it. Clearly, this points towards failure on part of the CM to act in time. A high-level probe is needed in the matter especially keeping in mind the fact that the bodies of the victims have been cremated without post-mortem in suspicious circumstances,” said Arora.
(With inputs from ENS, Chandigarh)
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