Stung by a hooch tragedy claimed 18 lives, dry Bihar has gone into overdrive to clean the system and set an example to avoid a recurrence of the incident.
After the suspension of all 25 officers of the Town police station in Gopalganj on Thursday evening, axe is set to fall on the excise superintendent of the district and other department officials, the civil surgeon and a few other doctors for dereliction of duty, sources said.
Six doctors who were on duty when the tragedy struck have been issued a show-cause notice on charges of dereliction of duty, and a payment of Rs 4 lakh ex-gratia is to be announced by district magistrate Rahul Kumar for the next of kin of the victims.
Departmental proceedings have also been recommended against the excise commissioner.
Principal secretary, department of excise, KK Pathak, visited Khajurbanni, a place known for its illicit liquor production business.
“I have seen the place where the illicit liquor was prepared. There were four concrete houses where it was going on. All those involved in this heinous act will face stringent action as per the Excise Act,” Pathak added.
Pathak said the manufacturing houses would be sealed, and if they are found to be constructed on government land, they would be demolished. “I have also asked for confiscation of palm trees and a thorough search of the canal and the surrounding areas. They are around 40-50 in number. Accountability will surely be fixed,” he added.
Pathak, who held a meeting with district magistrate, the police superintendent, the excise superintendent and other officials, said unlawful activity was going on in an organised way. “We are examining the matter and whoever is found responsible for dereliction of duty, at whichever level, will not be spared. Some of the culprits have fled after the incident,” he added.
The Gopalganj incident is the first major hooch tragedy in Bihar since prohibition was enforced on April 1. Though a few more incidents suspected to be due hooch consumption were reported, the government attributed them to other causes.
A report of the forensic analysis of the viscera samples of the deceased is awaited, but circumstantial evidence strongly points to spurious liquor being the cause, a fact accepted by the district administration.
“The viscera and blood samples of the deceased have been handed over to the Muzaffarpur forensic science laboratory on Thursday evening. The FSL report will make it clear as to what was mixed with the locally made brew,” Rahul Kumar said.
The Gopalganj district magistrate said the area surrounding Khajurbanni would be dug up to ascertain if more liquor was being hidden.
“We have proposed a community fine on Khajurbanni and ordered that the houses of the culprits be sealed,” he added.
The DM said the investigation was on and raids were conducted at places where liquor is suspected to have been sold or manufactured. “So far, seven persons have been arrested in this connection, while FIR has been lodged against 14,” he said.
The DM appealed to Khajurbanni residents to share whatever information they had with the administration, assuring that their identity would be kept a secret. “Those who consumed liquor in Khajurbanni should also come out fearlessly for proper medical treatment,” he added.
As per the amended excise law, if death is caused due to mixing of noxious substance with liquor or preparations as substitute of alcohol for sale or possession of such substances, the punishment is death sentence or imprisonment for life, apart from fine not less than Rs 5 lakh, which may extend up to Rs 10-lakh.
In case of disability or grievous hurt, the punishment could be a minimum of 10-year imprisonment, which can extend up to life. The new excise Act is yet to be notified, as the gubernatorial assent is awaited.