Bihar hooch toll rises to 30; Nitish Kumar insists kin of victims won’t get any government aid

Leader of Opposition in the Bihar Assembly and BJP leader Vijay Kumar Sinha (4th from right) with legislators shouts slogans at the State Assembly in Patna on December 16, 2022 during a protest against the Nitish Kumar government over the recent hooch tragedy.
| Photo Credit: PTI

Asserting that prohibition will continue in Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Friday said that “no compensation will be given to people who die after drinking spurious liquor”.

With the official death toll in the Saran hooch tragedy rising to 30, and villagers saying that 56 people have died, the National Human Rights Commission has now taken suo motu cognisance of the incident and issued notices to higher officials. Meanwhile, four people who died in the neighbouring Siwan district are also suspected to be victims of hooch or illicit country-made liquor. However, the family members of three of the dead had already consigned their bodies to the flames without doing any post-mortem examination.

The Chief Minister’s former party colleague and poll strategist Prashant Kishor expressed regret that he had “helped Nitish Kumar in 2014-15”. Mr. Kishor, who is currently undertaking a Jan Suraaj Yatra across Bihar said, “People around Mr. Kumar drink liquor and he should rollback the prohibition police in 48 hours.”

‘No sympathy’

However, Mr. Kumar doubled down in his defence of the State’s liquor ban. “Prohibition will continue in Bihar and I’ve no sympathy with those who drink liquor. No compensation will be given to people who die after drinking,” he said in the State Assembly.

“We’ve been making such an appeal for a long time that if you consume liquor, you’ll die. And once again I’m going appeal to people that if someone drinks illicit liquor, he will die. I’ll also tell them that those who talk in favour of drinking liquor, will not bring any good to you,” he added, speaking amidst a pandemonium created by Opposition BJP legislators demanding Mr. Kumar’s resignation as well as a sum of ₹10 lakh to be given as compensation to the family members of those died in the incident.

The protesting members, led by the Leader of the Opposition Vijay Kumar Sinha, later marched to Raj Bhavan and demanded the Governor’s intervention and dismissal of the State government. Earlier, on Thursday, a 30-member BJP delegation had visited affected villages in the Saran district.

Rising death toll

A senior district official, who did not wish to be named, said that the death toll had gone up to 30 on Friday. The district police have constituted a Special Investigation Team to probe the hooch deaths. Villagers said that at least 56 people had died till Friday evening, adding that the toll could rise further as several people are still admitted in different hospitals if the district. Senior State BJP leader and Rajya Sabha member Sushil Kumar Modi said that the “death toll has gone over 100 and the State government is hiding the actual figure”.

In neighboring Siwan district, reports came on Friday that four people had died after consuming spurious liquor. Those who died have been identified as Shambhu Yadav (28), Amir Manjhi (30), Awadh Manjhi (28) and Rajendra Pandit (30), of Brahmsthan village under Bhagwanpur Hat police station of Siwan district.

Mr. Yadav’s family members told local media persons that he had “complained of loss of vision after consuming liquor on Tuesday evening and later died on Thursday”. District police, however, said that families of three of the dead had already cremated their bodies. Only Mr. Pandit’s body has been sent for an autopsy.

The National Human Rights Commission took suo motu cognisance of the Saran hooch deaths and issued notices to the Bihar Chief Secretary and Director General of Police, seeking a detailed report on the incident, including the status of the FIR registered by the police, medical treatment of the victims who are hospitalised, and the compensation, if any, granted to the aggrieved families.

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