Chandigarh, Aug 06: A major breakthrough has been achieved in the Punjab Hooch Tragedy case. The Punjab police has arrested the main accused in the case, which was responsible for the death of over 100 people.
The police has arrested a Ludhiana based paint store owner for allegedly triggering the chain of events that led to the death of 111 persons across three districts.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Wednesday directed the state police chief to book those directly involved in the hooch tragedy that has claimed 113 lives, for murder.
Promising justice for the victims of the case, which he termed as the biggest tragedy of recent times, the chief minister asserted that he will not tolerate any political interference in the case.
Singh also mooted enhancement of punishment for spurious or illicit liquor manufacturing and smuggling under the Excise Act, to ensure repeat offenders remain behind the bars and are not able to come out easily to indulge again in the crime.
During the cabinet meeting, several ministers agreed to Advocate General Atul Nanda's suggestion that a strict law like Punjab Control of Organised Crime Act (PCOCA) was needed to combat organised crime like illicit liquor smuggling.
The chief minister asked the sub-committee, set up under minister Brahm Mohindra, to examine the provisions of the proposed law, to finalise and submit its report at the earliest.
He agreed with Sukhjinder Randhawa and other ministers that Punjab Control of Organised Crime Act (PCOCA) could help control hardcore criminals and act as a deterrent to gangsters, who continue to deal in organised crime even from prison, and had close connections with terrorists too, according to a government release here.
The chief minister's directives on the hooch tragedy came during two separate video conferences one of the cabinet meeting and the other a review meeting of the case with top police and administrative officials.
Amarinder Singh also led his council of ministers in observing a two-minute silence as a mark of homage to the victims of the tragedy.
As many as 113 people died in the hooch tragedy with 84, the maximum fatalities, in Tarn Taran, followed by 15 in Amritsar and 14 in Batala.
"Finish off this business, clean up the border areas.
This has to stop," said the chief minister in his directive to police and district officials during the review video conference earlier.
The illicit liquor business, using 'lahan' (raw material for making liquor), has been going on in border areas for a long time.
But now it had assumed even more dangerous proportions with the new trend of smuggling from neighbouring states, then chief minister said.
Asserting that he wanted to see an end to this whole business of spurious and illicit or smuggled liquor," the Singh directed the officials concerned to be extremely strict in dealing with the criminals, whether male or female.
Reiterating his government's zero-tolerance policy to illicit and spurious liquor, and drugs, he asked the police to coordinate closely with the excise and other departments concerned to wipe this menace out of Punjab once and for all.
Pointing out that the victims of the hooch tragedy were the poorest of the poor, Singh set a 10-day deadline for the deputy commissioners and police officers concerned to identify and process cases to provide targeted additional relief for their families.
The chief minister has already announced Rs 2 lakh ex gratia to the families of each of the victims of the tragedy.
Inspector General of Police SPS Parmar said cases have been registered under section 304 (punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the IPC and the Excise Act, and a coordinated crackdown had been launched in all border areas to identify and nab the criminals and initiate strict action against them under the law.
He revealed that initially, the families of the victims in Tarn Taran, which had suffered the maximum loss of lives, hid the deaths and cremated the bodies without post mortem.
Parmar suggested the introduction of colour coding for ethanol and other spirits to check their illegal sale and distribution.