14 dead, dozens in hospital after consuming hooch in Barabanki
Chief minister Yogi Adityanath ordered a high-level probe to look into all angles, including the possibility of a “political conspiracy”.
At least 14 people, including four members of a family, died and 42 others were taken ill after consuming spurious liquor in Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki district on Monday and Tuesday, local residents said.
The district administration confirmed only 12 deaths, including the four members of a family in Raniganj village.
Chief minister Yogi Adityanath ordered a high-level probe to look into all angles, including the possibility of a “political conspiracy”. He also announced an ex-gratia payment of ~2 lakh to the families of the dead and directed senior officials to ensure medical attention to all those who took ill after consuming the liquor.
Officials said the dead and the survivors purchased two brands of country liquor, Power House and Windies, from an authorised shop of the excise department at Raniganj market in the Ramnagar area of Barabanki.
After the deaths,excise officials sounded an alert about the two brands sold from the authorised excise department shops in the area.
The police seized bottles of the same brands on 14 April in Barabanki and arrested two persons for distilling spurious liquor and supplying it to authorised shops with wrappers of the registered brands.
Debunking the political conspiracy theory, Samajwadi Party leader Arvind Singh Gope accused the government of negligence.
Uttar Pradesh chief secretary Anup Chandra Pandey directed the officials to examine the samples of these two brands at all shops in Barabanki as well as other parts of the state.He also formed a three-member committee, headed by excise commissioner P Guru Prasad, to probe the matter and submit a report in 48 hours.
Excise minister Jai Pratap Singh said stringent action will be taken against those found guilty of selling tainted liquor.
A district excise officer, an excise inspector and two policemen — circle officer and inspector of Ramnagar area — have been suspended.
Police and excise officials have sealed the shop where liquor was sold after collecting samples of the alcohol. Police have arrested Sunil Kumar, a salesman at the liquor shop, and lodged a first information report (FIR) against shop owner Danveer Singh and two others, Pappu Jaiswal and Manish Singh.
District officials said the death toll might rise as 32 more people were referred to the trauma centre of King George’s Medical University in Lucknow.
According to reports, the most deaths, five, were reported from Raniganj; one death each was reported from the adjoining villages of Pipri Mahar, Kajiyapur, Umari, Loharanpuwa, Akohara, Telawari, Tatehra, Katehari and Amrai Bhund, all within Ramnagar police station limits.
Chief medical officer Ramesh Chandra of Barabanki said a total of 42 people with suspected methyl alcohol poisoning reached the district hospital by Tuesday evening. “The patients were examined by resident doctors and referred to Lucknow for further treatment,” he said.
Relatives and neighbours started pouring in at the house of Chhote Lal, who along with his three sons — Ramesh Kumar (35), Mukesh Kumar (30) and Sonu (25) — died after consuming the liquor.
“What is left to talk now? Sharab ne hamara sab le liya. Pehle andha kia fir jaan le li (Alcohol took everything from us. It blinded them first and then took their lives),” said an inconsolable Ramvati, wife of Ramesh Kumar.
Initial findings revealed that the spurious liquor was sold by the authorised shop after the addition of something to make it more potent, a senior police officer involved in the investigation said on condition of anonymity. He added that the investigation suggested most of the victims bought liquor from the same shop on two consecutive days, Sunday and Monday.
Around 100 people had died in another hooch tragedy in two adjoining districts of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand in February this year. Less than two weeks later, more than 120 people died, mostly tea estate workers, after consuming a locally brewed liquor called ‘sulai’, which is made of jaggery and ethyl alcohol, in Golaghat and Jorhat districts of Assam.