Bihar moots collective fine on Khajurbani after hooch tragedy

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Patna, Aug 19 (IANS) Even as Bihar suspended 25 police officials in the wake of hooch tragedy that claimed 16 lives, authorities were also planning to impose a collective fine on residents of Khajurbani localicty in Gopalganj town where illicit liquor was said to be freely available.

Gopalganj District Magistrate Rahul Kumar said a collective fine as per provisions in the new state Excise Act will be imposed on the locality residents.

“Most families of victims had pointed a finger at Khajurbani, a small locality with only 15-30 houses, engaged in illegal liquor trade for decades. We will take tough action,” Kumar said.

Under the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016, a district collector can impose collective fine on a village or a locality if a group of people violate the liquor ban frequently.

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Bereaved families singled out Khajurbani after Chief Minister Nitish Kumar assured them they would be spared punitive action and even promised a compensation of Rs 4,00,000 if forensic reports confirmed the deaths were due to spurious liquor.

The hooch tragedy was reported from Gopalganj on August 16.

According to police, Priya Devi, Virender Kumar, Sagir Alam — all close relatives of hooch victims — claimed Khajurbani was a hub for hooch trade.

“We all knew that illicit liquor is available in Khajurbani but local police officials were unaware of it. Is it possible?” asked Priya.

Virender said half a glass of ‘desi’ liquor in Khajurbani came for Rs 20 and a full glass was available for Rs 40.

“In Gopalganj town, Khajurbani was the only centre of country-made liquor, habitual drinkers used to visit it for their daily quota and this was in full knowledge of local police and excise department officials,” Alam said.

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It was only after the Chief Minister’s intervention in the matter that police recorded detailed statements from families of the victims and got to the bottom of Khajurbani’s pits in the grounds where 100 litres of hooch was hidden.

Gopalganj Superintendent of Police Ravi Ranjan Kumar suspended 25 police personnel, including the Station House Officer of Gopalganj, for failing to effectively impose the liquor ban.

The SP said: “It was found in preliminary investigation that police personnel of the town’s police station failed to enforce the liquor ban and all of them have been suspended.”

This is first such action against police personnel following the worst hooch tragedy after total prohibition on liquor was enforced in Bihar on April 5.

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The district administration has lodged an FIR against 14 people, including Nagina Paswan, a known kingpin involved in illicit liquor trade. Paswan was recently released from jail and has been absconding after the Gopalganj hooch tragedy on Tuesday.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has been targeting Nitish Kumar’s government over the tragedy and had dubbed the liquor ban as “black law” and “draconian”.



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