Surat: On Monday, three policemen were suspended for their alleged inaction in preventing the suspected hooch tragedy at Vareli village, where the toll rose to 16 with the death of one more person.
In a related development, the Gujarat government asked the ATS to find out the source of methanol, a highly toxic substance which is said to be responsible for the tragedy.
Surat Range IG N N Komar suspended Inspector Hasmukh Bharwad, Assistant Sub-Inspector Anil Tulsiram and Head Constable Jayatibhai Vazir, all attached to Kadodara police station, for dereliction of duty.
"I have suspended these policemen for not doing their duty properly. Since the last one week, our teams have conducted raids at more than 25 places in that area," he said.
The government has not officially termed the incident as a hooch tragedy and referred to it as "unnatural deaths".
In-charge District Collector K Rajesh said one more person from Vareli died at Surat Civil Hospital.
"We have learned that one more person of that village, who was admitted to the civil hospital four days back, died today. With this death, the toll has reached 16," Rajesh said.
According to Komar, the post-mortem reports of all deceased are "inconclusive", though they suggested presence of methyl alcohol in their bodies.
"Postmortem reports suggested presence of methyl alcohol in the bodies. Since it is not enough to establish cause of the death, we have sought viscera reports from the forensic science laboratory," the senior police officer said.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani held a video conference with senior police officials on the issue and announced to hand over the probe related to the use of methanol to Anti-Terrorism Squad, an official release said.
Methanol, also known as methyl alcohol, is used in making country-made liquor.
The Superintendent of Police of ATS has been asked to find out the source of methanol and people responsible for the illegal distribution of the chemical in and around Vareli, the release said.
`During the conference, Rupani instructed officials, right from Additional DGPs to District SPs, to strictly implement the prohibition law in Gujarat.
On Saturday, the government formed a three-member probe committee, headed by ADGP (Police Reforms) V M Pargi, and asked it to submit a report within three days.
Meanwhile, Opposition Congress stepped up attack on the BJP government over the issue and called for Vareli bandh today. Congress leader and ex-Union Minister Tushar Chaudhary staged a dharna in Vareli and demanded a free and fair probe.
"There is no meaning of setting up committees. Reports of many such committees have been put in cold storage in the past. We want decisive action," he said.
OBC leader Alpesh Thakor, spearheading a movement against illegal liquor trade in Gujarat since the last few months, visited the village and demanded a High Court-monitored inquiry.
"We don't have faith in this committee. We want an inquiry under the supervision of High Court. The government must curb this menace by bringing a strict law. If it fails to do so, thousands will gherao the state Assembly in Gandhinagar on 6 November," he said.
Meanwhile, senior Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela demanded harsh punishment for policemen found guilty of dereliction of duty in such cases.
"Though the administration knew everything about this liquor trade, no action was taken. Hooch is being sold at every corner of Gujarat and bootleggers are given protection. The government must book police officials, under whose jurisdiction such crime happens, on the charge of murder," demanded the Leader of Opposition in Assembly.