Amid the deadly COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed 386 lives across the state till Friday, over 21 persons died after consuming spurious liquor (hooch) in Majha belt of Punjab in the last three days.
The deaths were witnessed in Amritsar, Tarn Taran and Batala, just after two months of the Punjab government launching a major crackdown on illegal brewing of liquor which caused huge losses to the state exchequer.
During the complete lockdown in the state, following the outbreak of COVID-19, Punjab had 'dried up' and the tipplers were facing difficulty in getting the brands of their choice. After the government allowed opening of liquor shops with increased prices, the boozers shifted to hooch which resulted in mushrooming of spurious liquor.
The toll continued to rise with more deaths in Batala and Tarn Taran.
Taking a serious note of the incidents, Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh on Friday ordered a magisterial inquiry by Divisional Commissioner Jalandhar into the suspicious deaths of 21 people, allegedly due to consumption of spurious liquor, in Amritsar, Batala and Tarn Taran.
The inquiry will be conducted by Divisional Commissioner Jalandhar along with Joint Excise and Taxation Commissioner Punjab, and SPs Investigation of the concerned districts, informed an official spokesperson. The Chief Minister has given Commissioner, Jalandhar Division the liberty to co-opt any civil/police officer or any expert to facilitate the expeditious conduct of the enquiry.
He has promised strict action against anyone found complicit in the case, in which a woman has so far been arrested. Taking immediate and serious note of the case, Captain Amarinder Singh also directed the police to launch a search operation to crack down on any spurious liquor manufacturing units that may be operating in the state.
Police have arrested Balwinder Kaur of Muchhal village and further investigations are in progress under the Special Investigation Team (SIT) constituted by SSP Amritsar-Rural, from where the first cases were reported.
The post mortem of four persons – Jaswinder Singh, Kashmir Singh, Kirpal Singh and Jaswant Singh – will be conducted today to ascertain the exact cause of the deaths.
Punjab DGP Dinkar Gupta informed that the first five deaths were reported from villages Mucchal and Tangra in PS Tarsikka in Amritsar Rural on the night of June 29. On the evening of July 30, two more persons died under suspicious circumstances in Muchhal, while one person was hospitalised in critical condition and later succumbed at Sri Guru Ramdas Hospital, to where he was referred by Dr. Sarabjit Kaur Hospital, Tangra.
Later, two more deaths were reported from village Mucchal, while another two people reportedly died in Batala city, also due to spurious liquor consumption.
On Friday five more persons died in Batala, taking the toll in the city to seven, while one person has been referred to Civil Hospital, Batala in critical condition. Four more similarly suspicious deaths have also been reported from Tarn Taran.
The deceased have been identified as Mangal Singh, Balwinder Singh, Dalbir Singh, Gurpreet Singh, Kashmir Singh, Kaka Singh, Kirpal Singh, Jaswant Singh and Joga Singh all residents of village Muchhal and Baldev Singh of Tangra in Amritsar. Other deceased are Buta Ram, Bhinda, Riku Singh, Kala, Kalu, Billa and Jatinder, all residents of City Batala.
Those who have died in Tarn Taran have been identified as Sahib Singh, Harban Singh, Sukhdev Singh and Dharam Singh, the police spokesperson informed.