Bihar Hooch tragedy: SC asks NGO seeking SIT probe to approach Patna HC

The Nitish Kumar government imposed a complete prohibition in Bihar in April 2016 and has rejected the demand for compensation to the families of those who died after consuming spurious liquor

Members of Rashtriya Lok Janshakti Party (RLJP) burning effigy of Bihar CM Nitish Kumar for rejecting the demand of compensation for the family of victims of hooch tragedy in Chapra, at Income Tax roundabout on December 22, 2022 in Patna, India.
Members of Rashtriya Lok Janshakti Party (RLJP) burning effigy of Bihar CM Nitish Kumar for rejecting the demand of compensation for the family of victims of hooch tragedy in Chapra, at Income Tax roundabout on December 22, 2022 in Patna, India.
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PTI

The Supreme Court on Monday asked an NGO, which has sought an independent probe by a special investigation team (SIT) into the last month's hooch tragedy in Bihar, to approach the high court on the matter.

A bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha told advocate Pawan Prakash Pathak, appearing for Bihar-based Aryavarta Mahasabha Foundation, that the high courts are well-versed with local situation.

The bench said, "Whatever reliefs you have sought like -SIT probe into the incident, national plan for curbing manufacture and trade of illicit liquor and compensation to the victims - can all be dealt with by the High Court. The High Courts concerned are well versed with the local situations. They have wider power under Article 226 of the Constitution".

Pathak said that hooch tragedies are happening every now and then in the country and it is not limited to any one state.

"A top court bench is already hearing a case related to a hooch tragedy in Punjab. Unless and until national-level plans are formed with different states being made a party, it will be very difficult to control the manufacture and sale of illicit liquor. Lots of lives are lost due to the consumption of illicit liquor," Pathak said.

The bench said that it is granting the NGO liberty to approach the High Court concerned for reliefs that have been sought, and disposed of the petition.

On January 3, the top court said that it will hear the petition on January 9.

The Nitish Kumar government imposed a complete prohibition in Bihar in April 2016 and has rejected the demand for compensation to the families of those who died after consuming spurious liquor.

The petition, filed in the apex court by the NGO, has arrayed the Centre and the state of Bihar as respondents.

It has said a multi-pronged plan is needed to prevent the sale and consumption of toxic alcohol.

The plea has also sought a direction for chalking out a national action plan to curb the manufacture and trade of illicit liquor.

It said the hooch tragedy in Bihar on December 14 last year has "caused a furore" in the country.


"With political parties training their guns on each other, as many as 40 people have died so far after consuming spurious liquor, while others have been hospitalised and there is no official report on the incident," the petition claimed.

It said this is not the first time that India has reported an incident of people dying after consuming spurious liquor and similar cases were reported from various states, including Gujarat, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, in recent years.

"Hooch is a kind of liquor which is cheap, brewed in small unregulated shanties and does not attract excise tax. This inferior quality drink is usually made after mixing chemicals with water, which is then consumed by people," it said.

The plea has said it is more commonly sold in states that have imposed a full ban on liquor.

It said currently four states - Gujarat, Bihar, Nagaland and Mizoram - have laws that prohibit the sale of alcohol and the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016 was enacted to enforce a complete prohibition.

"Under the Act, manufacturing, bottling, distribution, transportation, collection, storage, possession, purchase, sale or consumption of any intoxicant or liquor is prohibited. From 2018 to 2020, over 45,000 FIRs were registered under the Act every year," it says.

The petition recalled that in February last year, the apex court had observed that trial courts in Bihar and the Patna High Court are being crowded by bail applications in matters under the 2016 Act.

It said ever since the Bihar government prohibited liquor sales in the state in 2016, it has invited scathing criticism for its "substantial failure" to enforce the ban and for several adverse consequences that the move has thrust on the people there.

The plea said, according to the Lok Sabha data released on July 19 last year, five states, including Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab, reported the maximum number of deaths due to the consumption of spurious liquor between 2016 and 2020.

"India reported over 6,000 deaths in five years between 2016 and 2020 due to the consumption of spurious liquor. India logged the lowest number of deaths in 2020 with 947," it said. 

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