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Mystery death toll climbs to 11

- Modi alleges hooch tragedy

Nov. 26: The death toll in the Sugauli tragedy in East Champaran district, around 180km northwest from Patna, climbed to 11 with two more persons falling victim to mystery disease on Monday night.

Confirming the development, the district authorities said the deceased had been identified as Jai Narayan Patel (24) and Sony Devi (25). Nine persons, including three women, had died earlier. The bodies of the victims were handed over to their relatives for last rites after port-mortem.

The mystery disease has made Surendra Kumar (8) and his sister Seema, (4) orphan. The two minors lost their mother and father — Rita Devi and Kanhai Mahto — within 24 hours. Their only aunt Rambha Devi, who could have looked after them, fell victim to the mystery disease yesterday. The two kids stared at every visitor to their makeshift hut. Right from the district officials to forensic experts from Patna quizzed the kids, who were at their wit’s end after the death of the parents. The visitors took pity on the innocent children.

East Champaran district magistrate Sridhar C said a five-member team of forensic experts from Patna collected samples from the place of occurrence. “The post-mortem conducted under supervision of the forensic experts has been video recorded,” he said, adding that the viscera had been preserved for investigation.

“The incident is being probed scientifically. Experts of biological and chemical wing of the state science laboratory in Patna have been pressed into service,” the district magistrate told The Telegraph on phone from Motihari on Tuesday.

He said a separate medical team of the district had been deployed at the affected village under Phulwaria panchayat. Additional ambulances have been provided to the local primary health centre. The residents have been asked not to panic, he added.

A section of the residents claimed that all the victims hailed from BPL (below poverty line) families, but only a few of them had been provided the benefits of Kabir Anthesthi Yojna. They alleged that the entire area was in the grip of liquor mafia and the sale of illicit liquor was rampant.

Senior BJP leader and former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi came down heavily on the state government and advocated for the review of the state’s liquor policy in the wake of the Sugauli incident.

Modi charged the state machinery with hiding the fact and claimed that the victims died after consuming spurious liquor. “The government is trying to hide the fact that it was a hooch tragedy. I don’t favour a ban on the sale of liquor. But I feel that the government needs to review its liquor policy,” he said.

The BJP leader said the policy should have strict guidelines on where the liquor shops should be opened. Second, liquor shops should be opened in rural areas only after the approval of the local panchayat body, he added.