Assam hooch tragedy: Toll rises to 102; state government cracks down on illicit liquor amid protests

In one of the biggest hooch tragedies that the country has seen, 102 people have died till 7 p.m on Saturday in Assam after consuming illicit liquor, as revealed by the government. The incident took place on Thursday evening, when hundreds fell sick after consuming the liquor in Golaghat and Jorhat districts of Assam. All the deceased are tea garden workers.

The spurious liquor was made in the Jogibari area of Golaghat district. The police have so far arrested 11 persons allegedly involved in the illegal production of the liquor from various parts of the district. They have been identified as Ratul Rajkhowa, Atul Bora, Gautam Shah, Indukalpa Bordoloi, Debakanta Bora, Prabin Phukan, Subhash Patra, Rajib Phukan, Bali Minoz and Bhaity Patra.

The toll has been rising with every passing hour, with over 400 still admitted in Golaghat Civil Hospital and Jorhat Medical College and Hospital. The state government has announced Rs 2 lakhs to the families of the deceased and Rs 50,000 to those admitted in the hospital.

It has been suspected that the tragedy took place due to a reaction between lali gur (liquid jaggery) and methanol used in the production of liquor. The state government has banned the sale of liquid jaggery with immediate effect, and the police have started seizing it from shops. Liquid jaggery is used extensively as cattle food, but illicit liquor producers use it in production.

Assam hooch tragedy: Toll rises to 102; state government cracks down on illicit liquor amid protests

Nurses attend to a person affected by illegal liquor in Assam on Thursday evening. PTI

Following the incident, the police have begun a crackdown on people engaging in illegal liquor production in Dibrugarh, Golaghat, Mangaldoi, Sivasagar and other districts which have a high number of tea gardens. Meanwhile, a team of the Central Investigation Department and Special Branch of Police has begun investigations in the Golaghat district.

Kula Saikia, Director General of Police, Assam said, “A joint team of the CID, SB and the forensic department has been sent to the area to investigate the matter. We hope we will get to know if any big syndicate of illicit liquor is being run in those places.”

Meanwhile, women working at tea gardens have begun to destroy illegal liquor shops and houses where illicit liquor is produced. Thousands of litres of liquor have been destroyed by the police, excise department and local people.

“Women suffer the most in such incidents. The government will soon take strict action against those who are behind such businesses,” said Angoorlata Deka, a BJP MLA.

Meanwhile, various organisations have demanded a blanket ban on liquor in the state. Lurinjyoti Gogoi, the general secretary of the All Assam Students Union, said, “In the 21st century, when science and technology have progressed so much, such incidents are particularly awful. The government should take steps to control liquor and give better treatment to those affected by the incident. Liquor has been destroying the economy of tea garden workers and the youth of Assam. The focus should be on creating awareness against liquor, ensuring education and improving the standard of living of the tea garden workers.”

Tea Tribes Welfare Minister Pallab Lochan Das, while stressing on awareness and education in the tea garden areas, said, “The incident was unfortunate and unexpected. Since my student years, I have been stressing on a complete ban on alcohol in the state. For that, we have to improve the condition of tea workers. We are stressing on proper implementation of government schemes. We will rope in the social welfare department to start an awareness campaign against liquor. The incident is a lesson for all those who consume liquor.”

In various parts of the state, the All Assam Tea Tribe Students Association staged protests against the government by burning effigies of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and excise minister Parimal Suklabaidya.

Meanwhile, Congress leaders and former ministers Rakibul Hussain and Ajanta Neog, who were planning to visit tea gardens to take stock of the situation, were stopped from entering the premises by protesters.

Peasant leader Akhil Gogoi alleged that the police is hand-in-glove with illicit liquor producers in the state.

Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sharma on Saturday visited the Jorhat Medical College and Hospital, and Golaghat Civil Hospital.

“We are arranging additional doctors from Dibrugarh, Tezpur and Guwahati Medical college. The government has taken responsibility for the treatment of the affected persons, and also for the food of the attendants. We will soon nab all the people involved in production of illicit liquor,” he said.

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Updated Date: Feb 23, 2019 23:10:12 IST

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