Residents attack an illegal liquor den. Picture by Pabitra Das
Five persons died in Mahestala, on the southern fringes of the city, on Tuesday, allegedly after consuming spurious alcohol. State finance and excise minister Asim Dasgupta, however, said only two persons had died in Mahestala and disputed the claim that the deaths were caused by illegal liquor.
But he said he had received unconfirmed reports about hooch deaths and asked the economic offences wing of the excise department to conduct an inquiry after visiting Mahestala and submit a report to him, if possible by Wednesday.
The deaths sparked outrage in Mahestala and a mob pulled down a number of illicit liquor dens and set some of them ablaze.
As confusion reigned over the number of deaths and the cause, local MLA and senior CPM leader Mursalin Mollah said all five died after consuming spurious liquor.
“Bhola Das, 40, Goutam Sardar, 32, Amar Singh, 45, Ajit Sarkar, 52, and Samar Majumdar, 65, died after drinking spurious alcohol,” he said.
The police, however, stuck to their version of two deaths because of diseases. Ajey Ranade, the superintendent of police of South 24-Parganas, said Bhola was suffering from gastroenteritis and Goutam Sardar had hepatitis.
Goutam’s wife Aparna said: “My husband was an alcoholic. On Monday, he came home at 8pm and started vomiting. We took him to National Medical College and Hospital, where he died at 1am.”
Mollah said since Sunday night, eight people had fallen ill after drinking and were taken to different hospitals. “Two are under observation at Sambhunath Pandit Hospital and one person has been released.”
The leader of the Opposition and Trinamul Congress MLA, Partho Chattopadhyay, visited the area and said: “The government did the same thing (fudged reports) after spurious liquor deaths in the port area.”
A Mahestala resident said the police were aware of the illicit liquor dens but didn’t take action as they received a weekly bribe from them.
The Bengal excise directorate said on Tuesday that it was unable to carry out raids against hooch dens because of lack of cooperation from local councillors and the police.
Liquor licence: The Supreme Court has recalled its order cancelling liquor licences granted by the West Bengal government in 2005. The apex court recalled the order on the ground that it had been passed without giving an opportunity of hearing to the licence-holders. The court clarified that it was recalling the order without going into the merits of the issue.