Chief minister Nitish Kumar-led Bihar government claimed on Monday that the frequent hooch incidents were not connected in any manner to prohibition.
It also asserted that some people with “vested personal or political interest” were spreading rumours about a link between the liquor ban and hooch deaths.
Over 146 people have died in hooch tragedies in the past one year. Of these 36 died in three back-to-back incidents in Nalanda, Saran and Buxar districts this January.
“Rumours are being spread by some political parties or people with vested personal or political interest that hooch tragedies are happening in the state because of prohibition. We want to clarify that hooch incidents have no relation with the ban on liquor,” Bihar prohibition, excise and registration minister Sunil Kumar said.
Though the minister did not name any political party or person who was spreading such “rumours”, he asserted that such people were ignorant about data related to hooch tragedies, which “happened in Bihar prior to the implementation of the liquor ban in April 2016”.
“Hooch incidents are happening even in states where prohibition is not implemented. Take the example of the Rae Bareli incident in Uttar Pradesh where several people died recently,” Sunil added.
The prohibition minister gave data related Katihar, East Champaran, Gopalganj, Kaimur, Bhojpur, Gaya and Saran districts where several people died between 1997 and 2013 after consuming poisonous liquor. He also gave examples of hooch tragedies in Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and other states, including Karnataka where 345 persons died in a hooch tragedy in 2008.
Sunil stressed on economic or financial reasons behind the hooch tragedies, and pointed out that those who lost their lives in it hailed from the economically lower rung of the society. “Some wrongdoers make liquor. Those who buy it are from the economically weaker section of the society. They do so because it is cheaper. Problems happen when methanol and other such things are mixed in such liquor,” Sunil added.
The minister tried to justify the hooch tragedies in the state by pointing out that fake medicines, fertilisers and adulterated food products were made despite laws against them being present.
He also said that the state government was conducting non-stop raids since Nitish’s intensive review of liquor ban around mid-November after a spate of hooch tragedies.
“Around 1.39 lakh raids were conducted in which over 22,000 people were arrested, 3,000 vehicles and 46 lakh litres of liquor were seized since the chief minister intensively reviewed the implementation of prohibition. We are strengthening our anti-liquor task force in the districts,” Sunil said.
Meanwhile, the state government has started using drones to keep a tab on illicit liquor manufacturing, trade and consumption in far-flung areas.
So far raids in Vaishali, Patna and Saran districts have been conducted with their help in which 39,000 kg fermented mahua flowers and 3,700 litres of liquor were destroyed.
The government is planning to relax some of the draconian measures of the prohibition law in the next couple of months.