The Congress on Friday alleged that illicit liquor trade was "flourishing" in Gujarat under the protection of "ruling forces" and demanded a probe by a sitting high court judge into the death of over 40 people due to consumption of spurious liquor.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi expressed concern over the business of spurious liquor and drugs in the BJP-ruled state, and asked which ruling forces are giving protection to the "mafias" involved.
Forty-two people from Botad and neighbouring Ahmedabad district have died so far after consuming the spurious liquor on July 25, while 97 people are still admitted to hospitals in Bhavnagar, Botad and Ahmedabad, according to Gujarat Minister of State for Home Harsh Sanghavi.
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also attacked the BJP over the deaths due to consumption of spurious liquor and asked who is responsible for it.
"By putting the label of prohibition on the top, who are the people of the government giving protection to the illicit liquor business," she asked.
"Bapu's land wants answers to these questions. The BJP government is running away from the questions of providing protection to illicit liquor business," Priyanka Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi.
Addressing a press conference at the AICC headquarters here, Congress' media department head Pawan Khera and Rajya Sabha member Amee Yajnik urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to speak up on the deaths due to spurious liquor and meet families of the victims during his Gujarat visit Friday.
Khera said it has come to light that 600 litres of 'methyl alcohol' (methanol) was brought from Ahmedabad to Botad district after which water was mixed in it and it was sold in different areas due to which people either lost their lives or suffered kidney damage.
The production and sale of such a dangerous chemical substance should be closely monitored by the government but what happened in this case raises many serious questions, he said.
All this is not possible in a "dry state" without the knowledge of the local police and administration, Khera said.
The leaders of the ruling party, the police and administration and the liquor mafia must have been complicit, he alleged.
Khera said there have been statements in the media by the families of those who have died due to spurious liquor that there is no prohibition and liquor is being sold openly.
"If we talk about the whole of Gujarat, then an annual illegal liquor business of about Rs 15,000 crore is being done. Illegal liquor business is flourishing from Modi ji's village of Vadnagar to every district in the state," Khera alleged.
He said the seizure of drugs worth crores and the "flourishing" of illegal liquor business like this in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, cannot be a mere coincidence.
This is clearly an experiment being carried out under the protection of ruling forces, Khera alleged.
He said the Congress demands that the spurious liquor scandal be investigated by a sitting judge of the high court because if the police, which is being accused, will investigate, then there will be no point in that probe.
"Most of the people who died due to drinking spurious liquor were poor and were bread earners of their respective households. Appropriate compensation should be given to such families," Khera said.
He also demanded that there should be free and better treatment made available to those who have lost their eyes or suffered kidney damage.
Yajnik alleged that illegal liquor joints are operating throughout the state with no action being taken.
Police investigation has revealed that a person named Jayesh aka Raju, who has been arrested, had stolen 600 litres of methyl alcohol from a godown in Ahmedabad where he worked as a manager and then sold it to his Botad-based cousin Sanjay for Rs 40,000 on July 25.
Despite knowing that it was an industrial solvent, Sanjay sold the chemical to local bootleggers of different villages of Botad.
These bootleggers mixed water in the chemical and sold it to people as country-made liquor, police had said.