How Many More Deaths Before Nitish Wakes Up To Reality Of Spurious Liquor In Bihar?

On 26 November 2015, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced that alcohol would be banned in the state from 1 April 2016. Kumar officially declared the total ban on 5 April 2016, and said in a press conference, “All type of liquor will be banned in the state from today. Sale [and consumption] of any type of alcohol in hotels, bars, clubs and any other place will be illegal from today onwards.”

Despite the ban, spurious liquor has been sold widely in the eastern state, resulting in deaths of the consumers. 

Recent incidents

  • 37 die post-Holi after consuming spurious liquor 

According to an official of Bihar police, so far 37 persons have died after consuming spurious liquor in the three districts of Bihar since the day of Holi, the FPJ reported. Maximum number of deaths took place in Bhagalpur district where so far 22 persons have died since Saturday morning. Besides, 12 persons lost their lives in Banka district and 3 in Madhepura.

The Bihar police however claim that these are mysterious deaths and an investigation is underway to identify the actual cause of deaths.

The family members of victims claim that they consumed liquor on Friday evening and Saturday morning on the occasion of Holi and since then, their health conditions deteriorated.

  • 5 Dead in suspected hooch tragedy

In January this year, at least five people died in Bihar’s Saran district, in what appeared to be yet another case of suspected hooch tragedy in the dry state. “We have received information about five deaths. Bodies of two of the deceased have been sent for post mortem. Some of the bereaved family members have blamed the deaths on liquor consumption,” stated the DM in Chhaora, the district headquarters. 

He said raids conducted jointly by police and excise department in the two blocks have unearthed illicit liquor trade, and vowed stern action against all accused.

  • 11 die in Nalanda after consuming poisonous liquor

In the same month, District Magistrate of Nalanda confirmed the deaths of 11 people in Nalanda district from the consumption of poisonous liquor.

“So far, 11 people have died in this entire case. Although the post-mortem report has not come yet, prima facie it appears that everyone has consumed illicit liquor. A police team is continuously raiding the area where this liquor incident took place and a large quantity of liquor has also been recovered,” said the Nalanda DM.

Nalanda happens to be Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s home district

  • Death toll reaches 40 in Bihar due to spurious liquor consumption in Diwali

Earlier during Diwali, the death toll in Bihar hooch tragedy in different districts reached 40. The deaths took place in Samastipur, Gopalganj and West Champaran districts upon consuming spurious liquor.

The latest deaths were recorded in Samastipur district. Earlier, at least 33 people had died in Gopalganj and West Champaran districts upon consuming spurious liquor.

“Two persons, who had taken ill, are currently undergoing treatment at a hospital. We have learnt that all of them had attended a funeral after which they consumed liquor brought by the Army man who was visiting his home on a holiday,” Superintendent of Police of Samastipur Manavjeet Singh Dhillon had said.

“We are investigating the matter further. Some more people are said to have consumed liquor and understood to have taken ill afterwards. We urge their family members to report the matter to the police. Our top priority is to get the sick treated,” the SP had said.

Nitish’s apathy

In 2021, till November, around 95 people, mostly from the lower strata of society, died after consuming spurious liquor and Deepavali turned a nightmare for over three dozen families in Gopalganj and West Champaran districts. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who regained the top post in recent assembly elections, riding on popularity among women voters due to liquor ban, is somehow unfazed over the deaths caused due hooch tragedies. Recently, when questioned about the same, Nitish said: “Such incidents happen even where liquor is available”.

The CM had reportedly mocked the five victims who died in Muzaffarpur after consuming spurious country-made liquor on November 1. He said, “Jab garbar cheej pijiyega, toh aap chale jaiyega (If you drink the wrong stuff, you will die).”

Battling criticism over repeated hooch tragedies, instead of searching for a feasible solution, Nitish Kumar in February asked officials of the excise and prohibition department to explore the possibility of using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), called drones in popular language, dog squads and motorboats against the violators of the prohibition law, government sources said. 

Gameplay of ‘Hooch’

Despite the ban imposed by the state, and crackdown on sale of the illegal liquor, there is still a significant demand, supply, and availability of liquor in the state. Though the law does not allow manufacturing or sale of alcohol, it is often illegal channels which are used for regular supply. A pouch of country-made liquor that used to cost Rs 10-15 now is easily sold for Rs 60-100, while bottle of popular IMFL brand liquor that earlier would cost around Rs 500-700 is being sold for Rs 1,200-1,400, the local reports suggest. Even at such expensive cost, people continue to buy the liquor. 

People aware of the local supply have said that the traders of spurious liquor have been exploring different ways in smuggling. Ambulances, oil tankers and milk containers have been used to ferry illegal consignments. There have been reports of the use of coffins, bicycle tubes, LPG cylinders and watermelons to hide liquor bottles coming into the State from Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Punjab, Haryana and even India’s neighbour Nepal, says Indiatimes report.

Though there have been stern actions against those involved including police officials, there have been reports on the ground that the bigger players have managed to get away. Since the prohibition law was enacted, the state has become a centre for the liquor mafia, say lawyers and social experts. Several high-profile police officers are hand-in-glove with manufacturers and distributors from Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand, which are bordering states. According to several investigation reports, police officers are receiving large sums of money in exchange for enabling smuggling of alcohol into the state on a cut-commission basis.

Actions, not mockery

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who has downplayed the issue on several occasions, needs to fix the accountability and take stringent action against those involved in the trade, even if that means putting behind bars his top policemen or party colleagues. The fallout of liquor ban has been an unabashed trade of illegal liquor, which has in turn costed lives, especially those of poor and marginalized. 

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