The Bihar government went into denial mode as the count of the number of people who had died allegedly after drinking hooch on Holi climbed to 39 on Monday from 19 the day before.
Bihar is a dry state, where even the possession of liquor can attract a jail term.
Sixteen people have died in Bhagalpur district, 14 in Banka, five in Siwan and four in Madhepura.
The reports submitted to the state headquarters late on Sunday by the administration and the police in the affected districts indicated efforts to brush the incidents under the carpet.
Banka district magistrate Suharsh Bhagat and superintendent of police Arvind Kumar Gupta submitted a joint report to the prohibition, excise and registration department additional chief secretary, K.K. Pathak, on the suspected hooch tragedy.
“We got the matter probed by the Banka sub-divisional officer and sub-divisional police officer. Statements of the family members of all the deceased were taken one by one. They spoke about the deaths happening due to disease. All the bodies have been cremated and post-mortem of none of them was conducted. Hence, death due to consumption of poisonous liquor has not been confirmed in the investigation so far,” the report said.
Bhagalpur district magistrate Subrat Kumar Sen and senior superintendent of police Babu Ram also submitted a joint report to Pathak.
The Bhagalpur report said the post-mortems of two of the deceased — Mithun Kumar and Vinod Rai — had been conducted on the wish of their family members. The reports are yet to come.
“The family members of one of the deceased Nilesh Kumar, 34, said it was a case of natural death, while the kin of another deceased Sandeep Yadav, 48, said he died of heart attack. One Abhishek Kumar, 24, is currently undergoing treatment in Jawahar Lal Nehru Medical College and Hospital. His father said he had come from outside, fell ill after some time, and was taken to the hospital,” the Bhagalpur report said.
However, the Bhagalpur officials did not investigate how Nilesh, aged only 34, could die of “natural” causes.
Videos of Abhishek telling local reporters that he had consumed liquor during Holi festivities have surfaced on social media.
In Madhepura, family members cremated the bodies before the police could conduct post-mortem or forensic tests.
Confronted with conflicting reports from the affected districts, state excise commissioner B. Kartikey Dhanji told reporters: “We are not denying anything. We are further investigating the incidents. The family members of the deceased in Banka district are not willing to talk to the officials. Action will be taken in Bhagalpur on the basis of the post-mortem reports that are awaited.
“Post-mortems in Madhepura also could not be conducted. Whenever anything like this happens anywhere, people quickly and stealthily cremate the bodies,” Dhanji added.
Around 92 persons have lost their lives in suspected hooch tragedies in the state this year. The toll stands at 202 since January 2021. Bihar implemented prohibition in April 2016.