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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

Toll in Assam liquor tragedy rises to 114; 10 detained so far

At least 72 more people succumbed to alcohol poisoning in two districts of Assam on Saturday, taking the death toll to 114 in what has turned into one of the worst episodes of mass hooch deaths in recent years.

india Updated: Feb 24, 2019 06:48 IST
Sadiq Naqvi
Sadiq Naqvi
Hindustan Times, Golaghat
A villager showing a packet of 'Hooch Pouch'. Image for representation.
A villager showing a packet of 'Hooch Pouch'. Image for representation.(Photo:Subhendu Ghosh /Hindustan Times)
         

At least 72 more people succumbed to alcohol poisoning in two districts of Assam on Saturday, taking the death toll to 114 in what has turned into one of the worst episodes of mass hooch deaths in recent years.

The deaths, mostly of tea estate workers in Golaghat and Jorhat districts, came less than two weeks after tainted liquor killed about 100 people in the Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Parimal Suklabaidya, Assam’s excise minister, said the tragedy happened despite clear instructions to district officials to be extra vigilant following the episode in the northern states that took place in the second week of this month.

Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, on Tuesday ordered top officials to ensure “a complete ban on sale of illegal liquor” and take steps to arrest and punish the guilty. He also announced an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh for the dead and Rs 50,000 to those undergoing treatment.

Sonowal visited the Jorhat Medical College Hospital where several victims were undergoing treatment and inquired about their conditions.

The police has detained 10 persons so far in connection with the incident, out of which three who had consumed the alcohol had to be hospitalised, according to Mukesh Agarwal, the additional director general of police, law and order.

According to Agarwal, 114 persons have succumbed to alcohol poisioning so far, including 71 from Golaghat district and 43 from mostly Borhola area of Jorhat district.

At least five people who served as the distributors of the illicit liquor died in the tragedy, according to police officials in Golaghat.

A top police official said there are at least 17 other suspects involved in selling the illicit alcohol who have been identified across the district which saw deaths reported from Halmira Tea Estate, Wokha Tea Estate, Gobindpur.

At the Halmira Tea estate hospital, which accounted for at least 38 casualties, the patients started arriving at 4.10 pm on Thursday. Bondhoin Bowri was the first one to arrive.

“Within next ten minutes, Draupodi Urang (62) landed at the hospital with similar symptoms of alcohol poisoning,” said Pranjal Sharma, the medical officer at the seven bed hospital at the tea estate.

By 9.30 pm in the evening 23 persons were referred by Sharma to the Golaghat Civil Hospital.

In Jugibari village, the locals vandalised the belongings of at least three residents of the village who were involved in making Sulai after news of two deaths from the village. At least one person detained by Golaghat Police belonged to Jugibari.

According to Pushpraj Singh, Superintendent of Police, Golaghat, Jugibari cannot be the only place where the spurious liquor that led to deaths was produced. “There can be multiple producers at different locations but we have to investigate what is common contaminant,” Singh said.

Sulai, the local brew, is mostly made from just fermented rice or Jaggery which is mixed with alum, calcium carbide and other contaminants before it is distilled. To make it more potent, the producers even mix ethanol.

“We have to investigate what was the common contaminant,” said Singh. “Use of methyl alcohol instead of ethyl alcohol could the reason. Jaggery could also be the reason but it is unlikely,” he said adding the forensic department team arriving on Saturday would offer more clues.

First Published: Feb 23, 2019 23:53 IST