Patna, Aug 18 (IANS) As the death toll in the hooch tragedy in Bihar’s Gopalganj district rose to 16, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Thursday promised to punish the culprits under the stringent new excise law, which provides for death sentence and life imprisonment.
Nitish’s major ally Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad also supported him and said action will be taken against negligent officials.
Facing opposition flak over the hooch tragedy, Nitish Kumar did not rule out — for the first time since the deaths came to light — the possibility of spurious liquor leading to the deaths.
“There is a possibility of spurious liquor consumption leading to the tragedy in Gopalganj. The post-mortem report may not have found alcohol in the bodies of victims but the viscera report will expose the truth. We have to wait. The state government will not hide anything,” the Chief Minister told the media here.
“So far, it is not clear what exactly caused the deaths in Gopalganj. If it is due to the consumption of spurious countrymade liquor, as reported, the culprits will not be spared. The culprits will be punished as per the new excise law,” Nitish said.
Nitish Kumar said his government is waiting for all the reports in connection with the incident.
He said top officials, including the Director General of Police, have been directed to identify and arrest those manufacturing illicit liquor and supplying it to the poor.
“My government is transparent in enforcing the liquor ban. We have nothing to hide and there is no difficulty in accepting the fact that people have died after consuming liquor, if it is true.”
A district official said that two more persons who allegedly drank spurious liquor died on Thursday at the Patna Medical College and Hospital whereas one person died late Wednesday night. Three others are still critical.
All the hooch victims were residents of the Nonia Tola locality in Gopalganj. They had complained of uneasiness and breathlessness, stomach pain and vomiting, after consuming ‘desi’ alcohol on Tuesday evening. After their condition deteriorated during the night, they were rushed to various hospitals.
Gopalganj District Magistrate Rahul Kumar set up a three-member team on Wednesday and launched a probe.
However, Gopalganj Superintendent of Police Ravi Ranjan had denied rumours about spurious liquor.
Total prohibition was enforced in Bihar from April 5, but the tragedy reveals that alcohol continues to be available in the black market.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has been targeting the Nitish government over the tragedy.