AT LEAST 12 persons died on Tuesday, including four members of a family, and 41 others were taken ill in Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki after they allegedly consumed spurious countrymade liquor purchased from a licensed shop authorised by the Excise Department, police said.
The police said they have arrested three employees of the shop — Shivam, Sunil Jaiswal and Pitamber — and have launched a hunt to nab its owner, Danveer Singh. Most of the victims are from Raniganj village where the shop is located under Ramnagar police station limits.
Among those dead are Chotte Lal Balmiki (59) from Raniganj, who worked as a Class IV employee at a public sector bank in Barabanki, and his three sons Ramesh (35), Sonu (25) and Mukesh (28).
Officials said Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has formed a three-member committee headed by Excise Commissioner P Guruprasad to probe the incident and asked it to submit a report within 48 hours. The committee also includes Ayodhya Commissioner Manoj Mishra and IG (Ayodhya Range) Sanjeev Gupta.
“Prima facie, it has come to light that the victims had purchased the liquor from a licensed shop belonging to Danveer Singh. The shop has been sealed. Three persons have been arrested and the police are trying to collect information on where they got the spurious liquor,” said District Magistrate Udai Bhanu Tripathi.
IG (Law and Order) Praveen Kumar said that 10 officials of the Excise Department and five policemen have been suspended. They include District Excise Officer Shiv Narayan Dubey, Excise Inspector R T Maurya, three head constables and five constables. The five suspended policemen include Circle officer (Ramnagar) Pawan Gautam, Station House Officer (Ramnagar) Rajesh Kumar, beat in-charge sub-inspector Mahendar Singh and two constables.
The police said victims admitted in hospital claimed to have consumed two brands of countrymade liquor purchased from Singh’s shop. “The police are questioning those arrested to know whether they were selling duplicate liquor of the two brands,” said IG Kumar.
District Excise Officer Dubey said the shop was allotted to Singh in the current financial year. “The two brands of countrymade liquor, which the victims claimed to have purchased from the shop, were supplied to other government-allotted shops in Barabanki. So far, we have not received complaint from them,” he said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Malti Devi (59), wife of Chotte Lal Balmiki, the oldest among the victims, said her husband returned home Monday evening after consuming liquor bought from the government vend.
“Our sons, Ramesh, Sonu and Mukesh, returned home separately after consuming liquor from the same shop. Around 11.30 pm, all four started vomitting and complained of pain in the stomach. They were taken to hospital, where Ramesh and Mukesh died. Early today, my husband and Sonu died,” she said.
Ramesh was working in a private firm and is survived by his wife Ramavati and two children, Sandya (11) and Shivansh (7 months). “The four men were the earning members of the family. Now, it will be a struggle for us to survive,” said Ramavati. Sonu and Mukesh worked as daily wage labourers.
Those dead include Balmiki’s neighbour Shiv Kumar (42), who was unmarried and working at a private firm in Barabanki. “My uncle returned home last night heavily drunk. In the night, he started vomitting and was rushed to hospital where doctors declared him brought dead,” said Kumar’s nephew Abhay Kumar.
A sixth victim, Rajesh Kumar (39), hailed from the neighbouring Akohara village and is survived by his wife Mamta and their three minor children, including two girls. “Rajesh returned home last night after consuming liquor at the Raniganj market. Early morning today, he started vomitting and was rushed to a nearby hospital where doctors declared him brought dead,” said Kumar’s brother-in-law Sita Ram.
Based on a complaint filed by Malti Devi’s other son, Monu, the police have lodged an FIR against Danveer Singh and his associates Pappu Jaiswal and Manish Singh under IPC sections 302 (murder) and 272 (adulteration of food or drink for sale). The police have also invoked the Excise Act in the case.
The police have seized 40 bottles of liquor, which were allegedly part of the consignment that the victims consumed, from near the shop.
“Around two weeks ago, we seized 7,000 bottles of liquor from the Fatehpur area of Barabanki and arrested two persons. We are trying to verify if the seized bottles were part of this consignment,” said Barabanki SP Ajay Kumar Sahni.
Officials said the bodies of those dead have been sent for autopsy and that the report is awaited. The police have seized some of the liquor from the houses of victims and sent samples to a laboratory. The government, meanwhile, has announced ex-gratia payment of Rs 2 lakh each to families of the deceased.
The incident comes three months after 59 people died after allegedly consuming spurious liquor in Saharanpur. Ten policemen and four excise officials were suspended in this case on charges of laxity.