India

Hooch tragedy: Illicit liquor has been available at throwaway prices all along under Yogi govt

Communities affected by the unfolding hooch tragedy in Uttar Pradesh say that illegal alcohol had been available at prices as low as ₹15, with Dalits being the main consumers

Aas Mohd Kaif

A very alarming incident was reported from Daurala in Meerut. Five youngsters, all students of Class 8, went to attend their school in Sakoti village in an inebriated state. After this shocking incident, the school management suspended the student who had arranged for alcohol.

Some students claim that these children had their drinks inside the classroom. All the five students didn’t go to the ground in the morning and stayed in the classroom. When all the students returned to the classroom, they found that they five boys were in the middle of their drinking. When enquired further, it was found that some children in Ruhasa, Dashrathpur and Jamalpur village were also doing the same thing.

This locally-produced illicit alcohol is easily available at the local grocery shops and cold-drink sellers, in almost every village of the area.

Had the Uttar Pradesh government, which was shaken out of sleep by the tragic deaths of more than 100 people in Saharanpur, Roorkee, paid attention to this two-month old news, it might have made some efforts to break this syndicate of illicit liquor.

Hooch tragedy: Illicit liquor has been available at throwaway prices all along under Yogi govt

This small piece of news can tell clearly how this syndicate of locally-made liquor is affecting the villages, from Uttarakhand to the river basin area till Meerut. In this basin area, there are a plenty of local breweries which produce the raw liquor on large scale, and then it is supplied to villages.

After the tragic incident in Saharanpur, the state administration is waking up to this harsh reality. Hastinapur, Purkaji in Muzaffarnagar and Bhagwanpur in Roorkee have the maximum number of such breweries, and an effective network of supply also. The excise officers and even the police have not been able to garner enough courage to visit this area near the Ganges, having been attacked many a time before.

During the rule of the BSP government in 2009, an operation was launched to weed out this syndicate. As a result, the hooch production was substantially reduced, but now it has again gained momentum and become ever more menacing.

In 2009, about a dozen people had died after consuming the inferior alcohol. After this, under the leadership of the Meerut IG Javed Akhtar, hundreds of such breweries were destroyed and a crackdown was carried out on the businessmen associated with them.

But now, they have rebuilt the syndicate more strongly. Villagers say that even the excise officers and the police are now involved in the thriving trade. In Saharanpur alone, 83 people have died after consuming the illicit liquor. Most of the deceased belong to the Dalit community.

Hooch tragedy: Illicit liquor has been available at throwaway prices all along under Yogi govt

The police on Tuesday claimed to have arrested a youth called Arjun in this regard. According to the Saharanpur administration, it was Arjun who made six drums of hooch using the rectified chemical, selling three drums out of them.

These three drums caused such a havoc. Had all the six drums of the hooch been sold, the condition would have been doubly severe, locals say.

According to the excise officials, the hooch became fatal because of the excessive use of the rectified chemical.

In 2008 also, the liquor with excessive rectified spirit had caused 12 deaths. About a dozen villages of Saharanpur are in a state of mourning. The Uttar Pradesh government has awarded a compensation of ₹2 lakh to the bereaved families.

According to former legislator of Saharanpur, Jagpal Singh, this illegal trade of hooch runs with the help of the police. “All the traders of illicit liquor remain in close touch, with the police and police officials pocketing lakhs through the trade,” he said.

Hooch tragedy: Illicit liquor has been available at throwaway prices all along under Yogi govt

This can be confirmed by the fact that the police conducted raids on the same night and recovered 271 litres of hooch, 350 litres of chemicals, and arrested 30 people. The action was undertaken in many areas, with hundreds of these breweries being destroyed and dozens of bootleggers fleeing the villages. This action was, however, taken after the tragedy had been reported, complain villagers.

The administrative machinery of Saharanpur is on the back foot after this tragedy. Meanwhile, another disclosure raises questions on the police and its functioning. Imran and Dhanpal from the Umahi village, Saharanpur, claim that they have been complaining to the police about the supply of illicit alcohol in the village.

Some women from the village had also complained to the police about the thriving trade, but the police did not take any action. Five people from this village died during the recent round of deaths, reported from the surrounding districts. The inspector of the police station of the area has been suspended.  A young social worker at Nagal, Shahvez Gada, says if the police had become “active on time, these villages would not have to face such a tragedy.”

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has cried conspiracy, and has said that his government would go to the bottom of the entire incident.

After enquiry, it was found that in more than 100 villages of Saharanpur the illicit liquor pouches were available at ₹30. According to sources, this liquor was being sold in Jhabiran, Dalheri, Shimalna, Ambheta Chand, Fatehpur Jat, Ranipur, Arjunpura Antara and Bhojpur villages of the area.

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