Dispur on Friday suspended two excise officials for allegedly not giving due importance to drives against illegal liquor dens while ordering dismantling of all such dens in tea garden areas.
The hooch deaths on Thursday took place despite a crackdown against illegal dens and an awareness campaign in the affected area in the second week of February, the excise department said, bringing to the fore the quality of implementation at the grassroots, more so in tea garden areas.
Excise minister Parimal Suklabaidya said, “The excise officials were suspended for lapses in dismantling liquor dens, creating enough awareness drives and checking the source of such spurious liquors in the tea estate. A four-member investigating team, led by additional excise commissioner Sanjib Medhi, has been rushed to the tea estate and will submit its report within 72 hours.”
Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal has instituted a one-man inquiry and asked Upper Assam division commissioner Julie Sonowal to inquire into the death.
Assam labour minister Pallab Lochan Das, said, “The labour department will initiate a drive in all the tea gardens in the state to shut down illegal liquor dens in order to avoid a repeat.”
“There is no provision for compensation to those who died as these do not fall under accidental death or natural death. But the tea tribes welfare department will provide monetary compensation to those who are undergoing medical treatment,” Das, who is also minister of the tea tribes welfare department, said. Officer on special duty to excise minister Sailendra Pandey said “ample” measures to stop the sale and consumption of illicit country liquors were taken throughout the state.
“In fact, the excise department had information of such country liquor dens operating in several areas and in December last year, we had carried out a massive drive against such dens in the nearby gardens. There were no such den at Halmira tea estate. No new den had also popped up during a weeklong awareness drive in the tea gardens of Assam,” said Pandey.
On the other hand, Congress MLAs Rupjyoti Kurmi and Durga Bhumij demanded the resignation of Assam excise minister Suklabaidya, holding him responsible for the deaths.
Speaker Hitendra Nath Goswami said the government would table a detailed statement on the tragedy on Monday. BJP legislator Gurujyoti Das said Assam should be declared a dry state.