Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Fresh Hooch Deaths Again Speak Poorly of Governance In Punjab

by Rajinder Singh Taggar

The deaths of 20 poor people in Sangrur district due to the consumption of poisonous illicit liquor freely sold by one of the many active gangs once again brought into sharp focus the lack of proper governance and the naivete of the rural populace, mainly the labour class of Punjab.

Along with the administration’s responsibility, society at large can not be absolved of the crime as lower strata are not made aware of the perils of illicit liquor. In the present case, hooch deaths have been reported from village Gujjran, block Dirba, and village Tibbi Ravidaspura, Tehsil Sunam, both in Sangrur district.

The police have formed a four-member special investigation team (SIT) headed by ADGP Gurinder Singh Dhillon. Three FIRs have been registered, and eight suspects have been arrested. 200 litres of industrial methanol, empty bottles, fake labels, and a cork-fixing machine have been seized.

Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann visited Gujjran and assured the people of adequate compensation. He declared that section 302 of IPC (murder) has been added to the other sections of the Excise Act in the FIRs.

The Opposition is demanding the resignation of the excise minister Harpal Cheema, besides a government job to the victims’ families.

Hooch tragedies are the result of the consumption of unscientifically and illegally brewed alcohol that has been recurring in Punjab, India, over the past decade. These tragedies often result in mass fatalities, and Punjab is not new to such occurrences.

Some major hooch-related incidents causing deaths were recorded in 2012, 2016, 2019, and 2020, mainly in the Majha belt of the state. In December 2012, a hooch tragedy struck Punjab’s Tarn Taran district, claiming the lives of at least 12 people.

In January 2016, one of its deadliest hooch tragedies occurred when over 100 people died after consuming spurious liquor in several districts, including Gurdaspur, Amritsar, and Batala. This incident prompted widespread outrage and calls for stricter enforcement measures against the illicit alcohol trade.

Another major hooch tragedy occurred in Tarn Taran district in July 2019, where, again, at least 100 people lost their lives. The incident led to arrests and crackdowns on illegal alcohol networks in the state, but the propensity of the ruralites to go in for the ‘Sasti Daroo’ (cheap liquor) has not died down.

In August 2020, during the Corona epidemic, when liquor vends were closed, Punjab faced yet another hooch tragedy, this time in the districts of Tarn Taran, Amritsar, and Batala. More than 135 people were reported dead after consuming spurious liquor. The incident sparked protests and renewed demands for more decisive action against those involved in the illicit alcohol trade.

As these incidents underscore the persistent challenges posed by the illegal production and distribution of alcohol in Punjab, the government’s efforts to combat the problem have not yielded lasting results—the lucrative nature of the illicit alcohol trade and the attraction of easy money fuel such tragedies.

The attendant problems accompanying such tragedies relate to healthcare requiring increased hospitals, which means resources from other essential healthcare needs. The illicit alcohol trade also deprives the government of tax revenue that could have been collected from legal alcohol sales. Additionally, the loss of lives and productivity due to hooch deaths affect the overall economic productivity of the region.

Families of victims often seek financial compensation and secure jobs after the death of their breadwinners, sometimes leading to conflicts with authorities or even retaliatory violence.

The illicit alcohol trade highlights perennial challenges in law enforcement and governance as well. Corruption and collusion with authorities facilitate the illegal trade.

Rajinder Singh Taggar

Consulting Editor

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