Patna: In ‘dry’ Bihar, the use of methanol, urea, oxytocin and other poisonous substances by local alcohol traders to manufacture cheap country-made illicit liquor again claimed the lives of, at least, 24 persons, including 21 in Aurangabad and 3 in Gaya districts, in the last four days.
Most of the deaths were reported from different villages under Madanpur Block, in Aurangabad, about 150 km from Patna, according to the police. Nearly, half-a-dozen people are battling for life at different private hospitals after consuming illicit liquor.
Most of the hooch tragedy victims, who were mostly poor and marginalised, were cremated without a post-mortem by their families in a hurry fearing police action if they failed to provide information about the local liquor trader or other members of the racket.
More than a dozen such incidents were reported in the last five months claiming the lives of nearly 100 people in different districts, including Bhagalpur, Banka, Saran, Madhepura, Siwan, Muzaffarpur, Nalanda and Nawada. After refuting the hooch deaths initially, district officials finally admitted.
Last year, illicit liquor claimed 95 lives, a big embarrassment for chief minister Nitish Kumar, which prompted his ruling ally Bharatiya Janata Party to question how the liquor manufacturers/traders were freely doing business despite his much-hyped police operation launched to ensure prohibition.
A police officer in Aurangabad requesting anonymity told Newsclick that there is no doubt that the use of poisonous or toxic chemicals in the manufacturing of cheap liquor caused so many deaths.
“The police investigation into the latest hooch incident is still in its preliminary stage. We strongly suspect the use of poisonous substances by liquor traders. The families of the deceased and villagers informed us that they felt uneasiness, breathlessness, severe headache, and loss of vision and vomited. These symptoms indicate consumption of spurious liquor by the victims,” the officer said.
During raids against liquor traders, the police discovered poisonous materials from manufacturing sites in recent months, the officer said adding, “we had gathered information last year during my posting in Muzaffarpur that liquor traders have been using poisonous chemicals, tablets and urea to make strong liquor”.
A small-time liquor trader Kameshwar Manjhi in Gaya admitted the rampant use of poisonous substances and urea due to the fast fermentation of the brew, strong taste and high demand.
“Liquor makers ferment the brew in a few hours thanks to the use of urea and other chemicals because natural fermentation takes, at least, three to five days. Sometimes, poisonous chemicals are mixed beyond the normal level and it turns spurious and affects the consumer’s health adversely causing deaths,” Manjhi said. Poor people consume liquor in good faith, he added, as they know that local liquor is brewed from mahua flowers, jaggery or rice.
Dr A Chaudhary, employed with a government hospital in Gaya, said that the victims were suffering from symptoms that were clear signs of consumption of methyl alcohol, which is strictly prohibited for humans. Its consumption damages the eyes and an overdose causes death.
Dr M Prasad, a medical officer at a primary health centre in Gaya, where victims were initially brought and later referred to the main hospital, too said that they had blurred vision, breathlessness and a burning sensation in the chest and the eyes, and were vomiting. “The victims complained of these symptoms, as per the families, soon after consuming the liquor. All such symptoms suggested the consumption of poisonous chemicals.”
Two doctors of government hospitals in Aurangabad where the victims were admitted for a few hours in critical condition and died within four to five hours said that their symptoms were similar to what happens after consuming poisonous chemicals. “We heard that liquor traders are not only using spirit but also urea and poisonous substances. The loss of vision of some of the victims during treatment indicated the effects of something toxic,” one of the doctors said.
However, Aurangabad district magistrate Saurabh Jorwal refused to comment on the use of poisonous substances in liquor manufacturing, which resulted in this week’s hooch tragedy. “We are still probing the incident; nothing is clear. It is a suspected case of deaths caused by the consumption of illicit liquor. Only post-mortem will reveal the truth,” he said. Superintendent of police SP Kantesh Kumar Mishra said that more than 125 people have been arrested in this connection.
In the last more than six years, one hooch tragedy after another has been reported despite Kumar imposing a prohibition in April 2016. Shockingly, Kumar and his Cabinet colleagues have repeatedly claimed that the much-hyped prohibition has been 100% successful after drones, helicopters and motorboats were used to locate illicit liquor manufacturers and traders.
Prohibition has become a joke among the people with illicit freely available on demand and even delivered at home with the alleged complicity of the police.
Powerful liquor manufacturers/traders have reportedly attacked police teams and officials of the excise department during raids. An assistant sub-inspector of police was crushed to death in Siwan district on May 26 when a police team was checking vehicles. Last year, another police personnel was crushed to death and several policemen were injured in a series of attacks by liquor manufacturers/traders in different places.