Hooch claimed 38 lives in Saran, higher death figures misleading: Bihar minister

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The Nitish Kumar government in Bihar on Monday has talked about the 38 people who have died in the Saran hooch tragedy. Nitish Kumar has asserted that higher death figures quoted by various quarters were “misleading”.

State Prohibition Minister Sunil Kumar affirmed at a hurriedly convened press conference inside the assembly premises on the last day of the winter session. The proceedings were disrupted by the opposition BJP over the deaths that took place in the dry state last week.

The number of people who died after consuming spurious liquor in Saran is 38, higher figures are misleading”, said the minister. BJP leaders have been claiming that “more than 100 people” have died. Most media reports have put the death toll to be more than 50.

The minister, however, added, “We may revise the death toll if we get any additional information which is found correct upon verification”. The minister also claimed the BJP’s contention that ex-gratia be paid to family members of the deceased.

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“Neither the IPC nor the CrPC provides for compensation to a person accused of a crime. Consuming any type of liquor is illegal under the prohibition law in Bihar”, he said. Compensation provided to victims of a hooch tragedy in Gopalganj in 2016 was “through recovery made from those who were convicted in the case. That is the provision under the law.

The government cannot immediately release ex-gratia in this case, ” the minister added. Notably, the issue of ex-gratia has been a cause for much rhetoric inside the House where the chief minister has been rejecting the demand outright with the remark ‘piyoge to maroge’ (if you drink, you shall be doomed to die).

The demand for compensation has also been coming from the CPI(ML) Liberation which supports the government from outside. On Monday, a delegation of the CPI(ML)-L met the chief minister at his chamber in the assembly premises.

Kumar asked the Left MLAs to desist from raising the demand which, he claimed, would be tantamount to “falling into a trap laid by BJP”. The minister also said that 25 people have so far been arrested in connection with the Saran hooch case.

“The officers in charge of two police stations concerned, besides village chowkidars, have been suspended. We are awaiting reports of police and excise departments and post-mortem for further action”, added the minister.
Asked about the NHRC notice slapped on the state government after the hooch incident, he said “We will extend full cooperation to the constitutional body”.

The minister added, “It is wrong to blame hooch deaths on prohibition. Spurious liquor has claimed more lives in states like Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, where there is no prohibition, than in Bihar”.
“Illicit liquor business is a means to make quick money.

The BJP, which was all for prohibition while it was sharing power with us, is wrongly drawing a connection between hooch deaths and liquor ban”, he said. He also said the government will intensify the crackdown on violation of prohibition, in force since April 2016, with particular emphasis on preventing the manufacture and sale of liquor.

“Even those not belonging to the state will not be allowed to evade the dragnet. Ever since the state went dry, 7,000 violators from outside Bihar have been arrested. Many of them have been convicted”, claimed the minister.



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