The number of people dead after drinking spurious liquor in Assam’s Golaghat and Jorhat districts last week touched 155 on Monday, even as police cracked down on suspected producers of country-made liquor and people involved in its distribution.
Addl DGP, Law and Order, Mukesh Agarwal told The Indian Express, “Death toll has reached 155. We have arrested 42 persons.”
Most of the deceased were tea garden workers from various tea estates, and multiple families reported more than one member among the dead. Police sources said that the dead included at least five sellers of the liquor.
A team of forensic analysts collected samples of the seized liquor from the affected villages and a report is awaited. Golaghat SP Pushpraj Singh told The Indian Express, “The reports will clarify a lot of things. In Golaghat, we have arrested 34 people. We obtained most of their names from dying declarations of the victims.”
At Jorhat Medical College and Hospital, which attended to over 450 patients in the last four days of which 77 died, authorities said patients were being discharged. “The number of critical patients is 3 or 4 now. The number of admitted patients is around 250,” Dr M J Gohain, a spokesperson, said.
The local brew, “Sulai”, is illicit, police and excise department officials said. It is mostly made from fermented jaggery, usually of a lower quality meant for feeding cows. In the fermentation, it is mixed with alum and calcium carbide. Used batteries and even urea are sometimes used to quicken the fermentation, police officials said. But what contaminated the liquor that caused the deaths is unclear to police at this point.
The police are also looking into how such a large area was affected, with deaths reported from areas at a distance of 30-40 km from Halmira Tea Estate in Golaghat, where the tragedy struck first.
CM Sarbananda Sonowal has ordered an inquiry by Upper Assam Division Commissioner Julie Sonowal. Excise Minister Parimal Suklabaidya has ordered a probe by a team headed by Additional Commissioner of Excise Department Sanjib Medhi and promised action against erring officials.