Bihar: Nitish Kumar to Launch Yatra in new Year to Spread Awareness on Liquor ban
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Patna: After facing flak from the opposition as well as its own allies over the failure of the total liquor prohibition in Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is set to launch a statewide ‘Yatra’ in the first week of the new year to create awareness among people, mainly in the rural areas, about ill effects of alcohol and to review the ongoing development programmes.
Kumar will start a nearly month-long march on January 5 from West Champaran district, the land closely associated with Mahatma Gandhi’s first major Satyagraha against British rule.
This Yatra by Kumar is widely seen as his another bid to seek the active support of people to implement the prohibition on the ground. The Yatra comes after the latest hooch tragedy in Saran district early this month, which has given a readymade issue to the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party to target Kumar for the failure to implement liquor prohibition.
Interestingly, Congress, a key partner of the ruling Mahagathbandhan alliance, is set to start the much-hyped Bharat Jodo Yatra in Bihar’s Banka district on January 5, the day Kumar will also embark on his Yatra.
The official death toll in the Saran hooch tragedy has risen to 42 so far, including 34 postmortems conducted at the government-run Sadar Hospital in Chapra. The victims died following consumption of spurious liquor. Eight died at Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH) during treatment.
However, the local media reports a death toll of 83 in Saran but it was not confirmed by government officials.
Soon after the incident, Kumar, during a meeting of the ruling Mahagathbandhan MLAs, reportedly informed them that he will go for another Yatra to reach out to the people to spread awareness about the benefits of prohibition and the ill effects of alcohol on people’s health, their family and the society. Kumar will also interact with women about the ban during the Yatra as it was on their demand that the government imposed the prohibition in April 2016.
According to an official from the chief minister’s office, preparations are already underway at different levels for this Yatra, including logistics, meeting places and security along the finalised route. “A few ministers, top officials and some leaders of Kumar’s party JD-U will accompany him during the Yatra. It will be on the line of others Yatras that he undertook in the last over one and half decade,” the official said.
As per the tentative plan of the Yatra, Kumar is likely to seek direct feedback from people, mainly women, about prohibition, officials said.
Bihar minister and senior JD-U leader, Sharvan Kumar, told NewsClick that Kumar is committed to continuing prohibition in the state and will mobilise people to play an active role in implementing the liquor ban. During the Yatra, Kumar will also counter misinformation spread by the opposition and vested interests against prohibition. “Prohibition is one of the social reform initiatives of the government, and it has been supported by all parties and a large selection of people, particularly women,” he said.
Another JD-U leader said that the proposed Yatra will probably be Kumar’s 14th one since 2005. In the past, Kumar had revealed why he repeatedly went on one after another Yatra. It was to feel the pulse of the people, their aspirations, grievances and the impact of different programmes undertaken by the government.
Kumar once reportedly said he enjoyed more while on the field, particularly in rural areas, as it provided him with an opportunity to learn different ideas from the people and interact with them, and he worked based on his experiences of the different yatras.
However, this will be the first Yatra after Kumar dumped the BJP, and joined hands with RJD, Congress and Left parties and formed the Mahagathbandhan government in the state in August this year.
It is yet to be seen whether Kumar’s allies will extend their support to his Yatra, which will mainly focus on prohibition.
In the last ten days, different women’s groups, including the JD-U women’s body, staged a dharna in support of the prohibition in Patna and protested against those demanding an end to prohibition.
After the Saran hooch tragedy, the Left parties, a key ally of the ruling Mahagathbandhan in the state, demanded compensation to the families of the victims. The Left parties said they are a strong supporter of total liquor prohibition, but they want the government to be sensitive toward the dependents of those who died after drinking spurious liquor.
Left party leaders demanded the state government to order a high-level probe into the politician-administration-liquor mafia nexus. This nexus, they claim, is behind the production and sale of illicit and spurious liquor. According to them, a flourishing illegal liquor trade is not possible without the patronage and support of a powerful liquor nexus. As a result, illegal liquor has become a synonym for the death of the poor in Bihar. Instead of curbing the liquor mafia, the poor are punished through the draconian Prohibition Act, they said.
The BJP leaders also demanded compensation for the families of the victims.
Ironically, CM Kumar had repeatedly ruled out any compensation for families of the victims in Saran in the last five days. Kumar on Monday reportedly said that there is no provision for compensation for those who died after consuming liquor.
In more than seven years, one hooch tragedy after another has been reported in the state despite the ban on manufacturing, storage, transportation, sale and consumption of alcohol since April 2016. Despite the much-hyped use of drones, copters and motorboats by the Kumar-led government to curb the illegal manufacturing and smuggling of liquor, hundreds of deaths have been reported in the last three years.
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