UP: Death toll in Aligarh hooch tragedy rises to 22

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Aligarh (UP), May 29 (PTI) The death toll in the Aligarh hooch tragedy went up to 22 on Saturday, and 28 more people were still in critical condition, an official said here.

Seven people have died since Friday night, he said and added that the condition of 28 people undergoing treatment at the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College Hospital, AMU, and the Malkhan Singh District Hospital is critical.

Local BJP MP Satish Gautam, however, told reporters in the afternoon that the death toll has 'crossed 30', citing information he has received from the ground.

District Magistrate Chandra Bhushan Singh while confirming the death toll of 22, said, 'Exact figures would be available after the post-mortem examination of the bodies lined up at the mortuary is conducted.' Locals fear the death toll may rise further as reports from several villages are still trickling in. A cursory count of the bodies lined up at the district hospital mortuary suggest the death toll could be considerably higher than the official figure.

Singh, however, hinted at the possibility that some of those bodies at the post-mortem unit 'could belong to those who have died of other causes, but are being linked to the deaths caused by spurious liquor'. He said that a magisterial probe will reveal the exact death toll.

On Friday, Additional District Magistrate (Finance) Vidhan Jaiswal said 15 people had died in villages falling under three separate police stations -- Lodha, Khair and Jawan -- after consuming spurious liquor.

Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Kalanidhi Naithani told news persons on Saturday that five people have been arrested so far, including Anil Chaudhary, alleged kingpin of the spurious liquor racket.

The police have booked 12 people in three different cases till now. Several raids were carried out in various parts of the district throughout the night and are still continuing.

A reward of Rs 50,000 each has been announced on the arrest of Rishi Sharma and Vipin Yadav, associates of Anil Chaudhary, the SSP said.

Naithani also said that police teams and local officials are visiting villages under three police stations and warning villagers not to consume any country-made liquor purchased during the past one week.

Officials are also seizing liquor pouches to help in identifying the spurious liquor stock which found its way to the government authorised liquor vends.

The district magistrate has recommended Rs 5 lakh ex gratia to the kin of the deceased.

To a question as to whether those who have been reportedly cremated in their villages without post-mortem examination would also be given the ex-gratia relief, BJP MP Gautam said that teams of local officials have been deputed to visit villages and contact village pradhans for identifying and confirming such deaths.

He also said that steps have been initiated to ensure 'that ex-gratia relief in such cases is not withheld'.

Gautam said that he had spoken with the chief minister over phone this morning on the tragedy. PTI CORR SAB NAV SMN SMN