At least eight persons have died in Kanpur in the past 72 hours after consuming illicit liquor that they had bought from door-to-door vendors and a grocer.
Another six persons are receiving treatment at a local hospital, where their condition was stated to be critical.
The Opposition alleged that the Uttar Pradesh government was well aware of the hooch menace, pointing to the deaths of 110 people in the state and in Uttarakhand in February after consuming spurious liquor and predicting a fallout for the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections.
The latest tragedy took place in Ghatampur, 100km southwest of Lucknow. They had bought liquor pouches from vendors who came to their homes on bicycles on Saturday night. Residents have told police that employees of the hooch manufacturers used to sell the illicit liquor door-to-door on their bicycles every evening. Four victims had bought liquor from a local grocer.
In most cases, the victims had first complained of nausea and then started vomiting.
The Uttar Pradesh government has suspended Rajesh Kumar Mishra, the district excise officer, and ordered a probe. The report of the investigation into the February hooch deaths, which took place in Saharanpur and Kushinagar besides Haridwar, is yet to be submitted.
Senior superintendent of police Anant Dev said 20 police teams had conducted raids at several places along the banks of the Ganga in Kanpur since Monday and destroyed illicit liquor-manufacturing units. Sources in the excise department, however, said at least 18 such units were still operational in Ghatampur and Harbanspur village in neighbouring Vidhanu.
“We have arrested eight persons and seized liquor kept in 75 drums. The operation is going on,” Dev said.
An excise department official in Lucknow said on the condition of anonymity that the hooch units were being run under police patronage.
Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav said the government knew well that illicit liquor was being manufactured rampantly.
“The government cares about rich liquor manufacturers, and not about poor people falling prey to hooch. The people will dislodge the BJP,” the former chief minister said.