Chandigarh, Jul 31 (PTI) Thirty-eight people died in three Punjab districts after drinking spurious liquor, in a tragedy that unfolded over the past three days, officials said on Friday.
Nineteen people died in Tarn Taran, 10 in Amritsar and nine in Batala after consuming liquor that appears to have been distilled in Amritsar’s Muchhal village. Police feared that the death toll could rise.
Eight bootleggers were arrested in over 40 raids conducted across the three districts, officials said.
Punjab Director General of Police Dinkar Gupta said the first five deaths were reported from Muchhal and Tangra villages in Amritsar's Tarsikka on Wednesday night.
In Batala, the liquor was sold in the Hathi Gate area, local people said.
Sheela Devi said her 24-year-old son Bhupinder Singh fell unconscious a few hours after he bought it from a shop there.
“He complained of discomfort and nausea and a few minutes later he was no more,” she told reporters.
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has ordered a magisterial inquiry.
But opposition Shiromani Akali Dal has demanded a judicial probe and the Aam Aadmi Party said the CM should resign, over one of the biggest hooch tragedies in the state.
Bikramjit Singh, the station house officer at Amritsar’s Tarsikka police station, was suspended, an official said.
Police arrested Balwinder Kaur, a resident of Muchhal village, under section 304 of the Indian Penal Code (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and provisions of the Excise Act, on Thursday night, the DGP said.
In a crackdown on Friday, seven more alleged bootleggers were arrested in Amritsar, Batala and Tarn Taran districts.
In Batala, local residents said illicit liquor was being openly sold in the Hathi Gate locality but no action was taken by the authorities.
Buta Ram, 40, was declared dead at Batala Civil Hospital. “He was lying on the ground outside our home with froth coming out of his mouth,” his nephew Rahul said.
The chief minister promised strict action against anyone involved in the case and directed police to crack down on any spurious liquor manufacturing unit operating in the state.
Jalandhar Divisional Commissioner will conduct the inquiry, along with the Punjab Joint Excise and Taxation Commissioner and the Superintendents of Police (Investigation) in the three districts.
The Shiromani Akali Dal rejected the divisional commissioner-level inquiry and demanded a probe by a judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
SAD leader Daljit Cheema said preliminary reports indicated that the supply of spurious liquor was widespread and a thorough investigation by an independent agency was needed.
Cheema alleged that illicit liquor was being supplied directly from distilleries, “patronised by Congress leaders”.
SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal said his heart went out to the families who lost their members in “perhaps the worst #hooch tragedy in the state”.
“Congress has blood of these Punjabis on its hand & @capt amarinder is too busy in publicity video shoots to act against his party colleagues responsible for this human tragedy,” he tweeted.
AAP MLA Aman Arora said his party demanded the chief minister’s resignation.
“Being the Minister for Excise and Taxation & Home Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh cannot escape from the responsibility of these deaths,” he said.
Congress MP Pratap Singh Bajwa also demanded a time-bound inquiry by a high court judge, saying it was needed to bring justice to the victim’s families.
Most of the victims came from poor families, officials said.
Among those who died in Amritsar were Mangal Singh, Balwinder Singh, Dalbir Singh, Gurpreet Singh, Kashmir Singh, Kaka Singh, Kirpal Singh, Jaswant Singh and Joga Singh, all residents of Muchhal village; and Baldev Singh of Tangra.
Buta Ram, Bhinda, Riku Singh, Kala, Kalu, Billa and Jatinder were among the victims in Batala.
Four of the Tarn Taran victims were identified as Sahib Singh, Harbans Singh, Sukhdev Singh and Dharm Singh.
DGP Dinkar Gupta said the questioning of the people held so far was expected to lead to further arrests in the case.
Gupta said a large amount of spurious liquor and drums were recovered from the accused and have been sent for chemical analysis.
Balwinder Kaur and Mithu were nabbed in Amritsar district.
Two people, Darshan Rani and Rajan, were nabbed in Batala. Kashmir Singh, Angrez Singh, Amarjit and Baljit were arrested in Tarn Taran district, police said.
The DGP said those arrested in Tarn Taran admitted to supplying spurious liquor in Norangabad village.
Mithu, who was arrested at Jasso Nangal village in Khilchian, has also admitted to supplying spurious liquor, Gupta said. PTI SUN VSD ASH ASH