Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar on Wednesday directed his officials to hunt down the perpetrators at any cost if the incident turns out to be a hooch tragedy.
“It is not yet clear what has caused the deaths. But so many deaths are a cause of serious concern. And if the deaths are due to hooch, the culprits will not be spared. I have asked officials to get the post-mortems done immediately as some of the families have cremated four-five bodies,” he told HT.
The chief minister has directed Gopalganj district magistrate Rahul Kumar and SP Raviranjan Kumar to record the statements of the victims’ family members to get to the bottom of the matter. He also urged some media persons in Gopalganj to gather details about the incident.
When one of the officials told the chief minister about traces of celphos (acute aluminium phosphide) found in one of the bodies, he said, “I am not interested in knowing that the deaths were not caused by hooch. I want to know what caused so many deaths. And if it is hooch, track down the culprits behind it.”
He added, “I have no problem in accepting if the deaths took place due to hooch. These are the challenges in enforcing prohibition. Somebody must have brought or manufactured illicit liquor, which the victims consumed. The law will take its own course in that case,” he added.
The Bihar excise (amendment) act, 2016, which was enacted on March 30, has the provision of death sentence for those involved in illicit sale or manufacturing of liquor causing death and life imprisonment if it causes disability. The new bill, which is yet to get gubernatorial assent, also has the same provision.
The chief minister said if it turns out to be a hooch tragedy, ex-gratia will be given to the kin of the victims as per the provisions in the act.
KK Pathak, principal secretary, department of excise and prohibition, said that a team has been constituted under deputy commissioner Bishwanath Paswan to look into the matter and it has already started its investigation. “We are awaiting post-mortem report to ascertain the cause of deaths, as the victims’ families will be entitled to e-gratia only if the deaths were due to illicit liquor,” he added.