The hooch tragedy that has claimed 16 lives could have been prevented had the police and excise departments not turned a blind eye to the illegal distillation of liquor, a practice that has been going on for years under the patronage of political leaders.
The excise and taxation department, the Batala police and the civil administration have not done much to curb the practice except for conducting customary raids and organising health camps in the affected villages.
The deadly liquor that led to the deaths was prepared in Shampura village, a den of illicit liquor trade for the past several years.
Sources in the village said that 60-70 families of two communities were into this business. The two kingpins of the trade, they claimed, enjoyed the patronage and protection of the two main political parties in the state.
So much is their influence that the police and excise authorities think twice before conducting raids here.
It is estimated that more than 10,000 litres of illicit liquor is produced in Shampura on a daily basis.
To keep the production cost low and earn more profits, the liquor manufacturers have started using methyl alcohol instead of 'gur' (jaggery).
Sources said that every 5 litres of illicit liquor contained 1 litre of methyl alcohol and 4 litres of water. This process costs less and takes just a few hours. "It is this deadly concoction that led to the hooch tragedy," said an excise officer.
"Even a slight overdose of this liquor can impair vision and irreparably damage the liver in a matter of just half an hour," said Dr Gurpal Singh, a senior doctor.
The excise department, responsible for checking the distillation of illicit liquor, seems to be more interested in devising ways and means to increase its revenue from liquor vends.