Two Congress parliamentarians targeted their party-led government in Punjab on Monday over the spurious liquor tragedy, which has claimed over 100 lives, and petitioned the governor for probe by the CBI and the ED into the "illegal" trade in alcohol. Rajya Sabha members Partap Singh Bajwa and Shamsher Singh Dullo alleged "clear-cut failure" on the part of the state administration and claimed the tragedy could have been averted, had Chief Minister Amarinder Singh acted in time on their complaints about illegal liquor businesses.
After meeting Governor V P Singh Badnore, Congress leader Bajwa said they had demanded probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) into the alleged illegal liquor trade in the state. The MPs said the tragedy was "bound to happen" in the "absence" of timely action by the Congress government.
The death toll in the spurious liquor tragedy, which has been unfolding in Tarn Taran. Gurdaspur and Amritsar since Wednesday evening, rose to 105 on Monday. "Had CM acted in time, the hooch tragedy would not have taken place…. We have been highlighting this issue since 2017," Dullo said, adding that it was the responsibility of the state government to act tough against liquor smugglers.
He alleged that there has been rampant inter-state smuggling of illicit liquor during the coronavirus-induced lockdown. The two leaders said they would meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi and, thereafter, take up the issue with the prime minister and the Union home minister.
"We will also raise the issue of deaths of people in Parliament," said Bajwa. He said the chief minister or the police chief or the chief secretary should have visited the areas where people died after consuming spurious liquor.
In a letter handed over to the governor, the MPs said for many months, loss to the public exchequer due to smuggling of liquor by licensed distilleries, functioning of illegal distilleries and production of spurious liquor in Punjab has been in news. "We have raised this issue as it shows a clear-cut failure of the administrative machinery in the state…. There has been blatant smuggling of liquor from Punjab to other states especially during the COVID lockdown period," they said in the letter.
"The liquor mafia have escaped the clutches of law with impunity and are well connected to those in power. This nexus has allowed their actions to go unchecked and unregulated," they alleged. "Spurious liquor was being manufactured and sold all over the state…. Smuggling, functioning of illegal distilleries, production and circulation of spurious liquor cannot be done without the active connivance of officers of Excise and Taxation Department as well as Police Department. All our efforts to get these criminals reined in were ignored," they claimed.
They alleged that the chief minister and his team chose to "disregard" these issues when highlighted by them. They said the chief minister claimed to have acted against the liquor mafia over the last few months. "However, had the police and excise officials acted effectively, the manufacture and circulation of illegal liquor would have stopped and all the real culprits would be imprisoned," the letter stated.
"Therefore, we request your good self to send a recommendation to the Government of India to let the Central Bureau of Investigation as well as the Enforcement Directorate investigate the production and distribution of illegal liquor in Punjab," the Congress leaders urged the governor.