Hooch Tragedy: Death Toll Rises to 99, Main Accused Arrested
The death toll in the hooch tragedy has risen to 99, with 59 people dead in Saharanpur, 10 in Kushinagar and 30 in Haridwar, from where the liquor had originated, reported The Indian Express. Hundreds of others are in hospital after consuming the illicit liquor.
The main accused, Sardar Hardev, and his son, Sukka, have been arrested by the Haridwar police in Jhabrera in connection with the deaths that have occurred due to consumption of illicit liquor in Roorkee, news agency ANI reported on Monday.
The Uttar Pradesh government on Sunday, 10 February, constituted a five-member Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe recent deaths due to consumption of illicit liquor in the state.
3,049 people have been arrested and over 79,000 litres of country-made liquor has been seized across the state since the tragedy struck, as authorities try to end the illicit liquor trade, the UP government spokesperson said, according to The Indian Express. The spokesperson added that 2,812 FIRs have been filed in the investigation so far.
A Confession and Possible Leads
The death toll in Saharanpur district in Uttar Pradesh remained unchanged at 36, but 18 deaths were reported from the Meerut Medical College where many had been brought after consuming the illicit liquor on Thursday.
Two people who were arrested on Sunday, 10 February, have confessed to selling the liquor and have reportedly given police leads.
According to the police, the arrested father-son duo, Fakira and Sonu, told investigators that they had procured the spurious liquor from Uttar Pradesh and sold it in Balupur and its neighbouring villages in Uttarakhand's Haridwar district.
The two are residents of Balupur village – Haridwar SSP Janmejay Khanduri and Saharanpur SSP Dinesh Kumar – who held a joint press conference in Roorkee, reported PTI.
‘White Like Milk & Smelt Like Diesel’
Health officials have not yet specified what caused the reaction to the alcohol and are suspecting the usage of methyl alcohol instead of ethyl alcohol. According to Dr SK Varshney, Chief Medical Superintendent of the Saharanpur Medical Government College, a large quantity of some toxic substance was also added, the report said.
The accused have told interrogators that the liquor they had bought did not have its usual colour and smelt of diesel, the Haridwar Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) said.
"It was white like milk and smelt of diesel," they said in their statement to the police.
The victims, hailing from Haridwar in Uttarakhand and Saharanpur district in Uttar Pradesh, had consumed the liquor after the ‘tehravin’, the 13th day of mourning ritual, following a relative's death.
Efforts are underway to nab the residents of Punden village of Saharanpur who manufactured the illicit liquor, the Haridwar police chief said.
He said raids have been conducted at their residence but they are on the run.
Yogi Warns of Strict Action
Yogi Adityanath, from his home turf Gorakhpur, warned of stern action against all those found involved in illicit liquor trade even if they were associated with any political party.
“The incidents are unfortunate and an investigation will be done. I also had a conversation with Uttarakhand CM on the incident. Strict actions will be taken and the culprits will not be spared. These types of incidents have happened in the past also, where many times SP workers were involved. The government has announced Rs 2 lakh each, to the kin of the deceased, and Rs 50,000 each to those who are under treatment, as compensation.”Yogi Adityanath, CM, UP
Priyanka Evokes Response, Action from UP Govt
Hoping that the state governments take strict action against culprits and provide compensation and government jobs for the families of the deceased, Priyanka Gandhi on Sunday expressed her condolences to bereaved families.
“Sad and stunned by the death of more than 100 people in Uttarakhand and UP due to illicit liquor. This is condemnable. It couldn't have been imagined that the trade of illicit liquor flourished at such a large scale in the two states,” the Eastern UP General Secy said.
Oppn Dubs State Govts as Callous
Commenting on the deaths due to illicit liquor, Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav said,
The opposition has been notifying the government about such activities. But they didn’t wake up because the government is also involved in it. The truth is that without the government’s backing, such businesses can’t be carried out. The UP government should accept that they can’t run the state.Akhilesh Yadav, President, Samajwadi Party
BSP chief Mayawati in a statement said that both the state governments were "callous" in their approach towards banning sale of spurious liquor and demanded a CBI probe into the tragedy.
She said till the CBI probe was complete, excise ministers of both the states should be asked to step down to ensure free and fair inquiry.
Mayawati said bootleggers who are running a parallel administration right under the nose of the authorities and selling spurious liquor.
Commenting on the incident, Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi said on Sunday that prohibition cannot work everywhere as it did in his state. “Prohibition may have worked in Bihar but it cannot work everywhere. Different states have different circumstances and it is up to their respective chief ministers to decide whether or not imposing prohibition will be a practical idea," he said.
Uttarakhand CM Trivendra Singh Rawat has announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the next of kin of the deceased, and Rs 50,000 each to those who are in a critical condition after consumption of illicit liquor in Roorkee, reported ANI.
How it Happened
Most of the victims had consumed the liquor on Thursday evening at the ‘tehravin’, the 13th day of mourning after a relative's death in Balupur village, according to reports. More deaths took place in Uttar Pradesh's Saharanpur district, which adjoins Uttarakhand, as people who had attended the ritual returned home, district magistrate Alok Kumar Pandey said.
But at least one man also brought some liquor pouches from Balupur and might have sold them in Saharanpur, officials added. Pandey said a man identified as Pintu had brought 30 pouches of hooch from Balupur village, and may have sold them to others.
It is not immediately clear if some of the victims are among his customers.
They were served liquor there in the evening and the victims started falling ill during the night, officials from both Uttarakhand and UP said.
Many of the Saharanpur victims could not be admitted to hospital because the area was lashed by rain and hailstorms, Pandey said.
Saharanpur DM Alok Pandey said the victims from Nangal and adjoining villages in his district had gone to Balupur to take part in the ceremony on Thursday.
In the morning, they were brought to the district medical hospital for treatment.
The deaths in the villages in Haridwar and Uttarakhand districts took place over the day on Friday, even as the authorities warned people not to consume any liquor they might be carrying from Balupur.
Uttarakhand government has suspended 17 administration and police personnel and ordered a magisterial probe. In Uttar Pradesh, 10 policemen have been suspended.
The Incident in Kushinagar
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has ordered departmental action against district excise officers of Kushinagar and Saharanpur, the state government said.
In Uttarakhand, 13 excise department personnel have been placed under suspension in connection with the hooch tragedy, Haridwar District Magistrate Deepak Rawat said.
NDTV reported that raids have been conducted in parts of the state, including in Banda where a large quantity of illicit liquor was seized.
“We will catch everyone involved, either this side of the border or that side. This will be an ongoing operation. We cannot deny the deaths but we will clamp down, we have been applying pressure on the border areas and we don’t know the manufacture of spurious liquor in our areas.”Saharanpur Superintendent of Police Dinesh Kumar
Four Uttarakhand police personnel, including the Jhabrera station house officer, have been placed under suspension.
Both states announced drives to curb the sale spurious liquor.