Bihar hooch tragedy: Death toll rises to 55, police detain 126 smugglers

The number of people who died after consuming spurious liquor in Bihar’s Chapra rose to 55 on Friday. Many people are seriously ill, and the death toll could rise further. Officials are tight-lipped on the issue as tension prevails in the area over these deaths. Police teams from several police stations are camping in Mashrakh to keep the law-and-order situation in control.

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By: Santosh Singh
Updated: 16 December, 2022 11:59 am IST

The number of people who died after consuming spurious liquor in Bihar’s Chapra rose to 55 on Friday, drawing severe criticism to chief minister Nitish Kumar’s ambitious prohibition law. In a major crackdown, the police have detained 126 suspected liquor smugglers.

Many people are seriously ill, and the death toll could rise further. Almost all the victims are male and hail from the Mashrakh and Ishauvpur areas of Saran district.

Bihar government has ordered an enquiry by a special investigation team (SIT). The SIT will investigate the source of the spurious liquor and its availability to the victims, a government official said.

Saran superintendent of police (SP) Santosh Kumar has suspended Mashrakh police station in-charge Ritesh Mishra and constable Vivek Tiwari for alleged negligence in discharging their duty. In addition, Madhaura SDPO Yogendra Kumar has also been shunted out.

Among those detained is said to be the main liquor supplier in the area. As per officials, a smuggler has also died after consuming the spurious liquor.

Officials are tight-lipped on the issue as tension prevails in the area over these deaths. Police teams from several police stations are camping in Mashrakh to keep the law-and-order situation in control.

According to sources, the liquor was sourced from a shanty situated near Jaddu Mor in Mashrakh area.

The issue has snowballed into a major political controversy over the “faulty” implementation of CM Kumar’s 2016 liquor prohibition law. Many senior political leaders have called the policy a “failed affair” and demanded its withdrawal.

More than 80 people have died in hooch tragedies in different districts of Bihar this year alone, according to media reports. Nine people were killed in Saran, 12 people in Banka, three people in Madhepura, 8 in Bettiah and 16 in Gopalganj district earlier this year.

On Wednesday, the issue was raised in the ongoing session of the Bihar Legislative Assembly by legislators of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Video clips of the Assembly proceedings show BJP members holding placards and raising loud slogans demanding that chief minister Nitish Kumar is booked for murder.

When BJP MLAs did not let the house function despite repeated appeals by the chair, a visibly-upset CM Nitish Kumar retorted, “You (BJP) were the one to support this law and now you are demanding its withdrawal. You people consume alcohol. You all have gone mad.”

Speaking to reporters, Leader of Opposition Samrath Chaudhary argued that the liquor prohibition has failed in Bihar and should be rolled back.

“Nitish Kumar is using the policy of liquor ban for raising his revenues. That is why he is not lifting the ban even after facing negative consequences due to its poor implementation,” he said.

BJP MLA Janak Singh demanded that a case of murder should be registered against chief minister Nitish Kumar whenever any person dies of spurious liquor.

For months, leaders of the Opposition as well as partner parties have been demanding the withdrawal of the liquor prohibition, arguing that liquor is easily available in every part of Bihar. A section of leaders of the ruling JDU-RJD alliance has even blamed the ban on liquor for its debacle in the recently-concluded Kurhani Assembly bypolls.

Dr Sanjeev, a JDU leader, said, “The government’s liquor policy is not fully successful and the main problem lies at lower levels. Policemen harass poor people by misusing this law. I am in favour of a liquor ban but the manner of enforcement is not justifiable.”

Among the staunch opponents of CM Kumar’s 2016 ban are former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and Paswan leader and MP Chirag Paswan.

Manjhi, who heads Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) have demanded that the sale and consumption of toddy, an alcoholic beverage, be allowed in the state.

“In my opinion, toddy should not be banned. It is a natural juice, and it should not be in the category of alcohol. This ban has affected the livelihood of lakhs of people even outside of the Pasi community. They face police action due to this ban,” Manjhi argued.

Chirag, the chief of the Ram Vilas faction of the Lok Janshakti Party, recently said: “Nitish Kumar himself introduced liquor shops in every panchayat after his 2005 win. Why did you open these shops if you were going to ban liquor in 2016?”

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