A common thread ties all victims of the tragedy together: they last drank liquor in Hardiya village. Now, their families are being pressured to remove the village's name from their police statements.
Bettiah: When he came home drunk on July 9, Guddu Miyan (30) thought he’d rest for a while before his wife, Hasina Khatoon, returned from transplanting paddy seedlings in the fields of their village in Bihar. He lay down at around 7 pm, but a sharp pain in the stomach, accompanied by dizziness and vomiting, rendered Guddu immovable just minutes later. “He then lost his eyesight and collapsed. He died by 11 pm before we could take him to hospital,” said Md. Saheb, Guddu Miyan's brother.
Guddu is among 16 people in Lauriya and Ramnagar blocks of Bihar’s West Champaran district who are suspected to have died between July 9 and 15 of poisoning from illicitly distilled liquor. In Bihar, the sale and consumption of liquor have been banned by CM Nitish Kumar-led JDU-BJP government since 2016. The prohibition has left many habitual drinkers at the mercy of illicit liquor.
A common thread ties all victims of the tragedy together: they last drank liquor in Hardiya village of Ramnagar. Like Guddu, Jowahir Miyan (50) and Taj Mohammed (60) from Sabeya village in Ramnagar met a tragic end after drinking illicit liquor. The symptoms were similar: abdominal cramps, vomiting, dizziness, and loss of eyesight.
Azad Miyan (28), Jowahir’s son, said his father drank in Hardiya on July 10 and 11. “On July 12, we took him to a private doctor in Ramnagar, who referred him to Gorakhpur (Uttar Pradesh), but he died after returning home from the clinic,” Azad said.
Taj’s wife, Kuaraisa Khatun, said he drank in Hardiya on July 9 and died a day later. As his health deteriorated in the night, Taj told his family there was something wrong in the alcohol.
The Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) of
Champaran range, Lalan Mohan Prasad, told 101Reporters that the families of 12 out of the
16 people who had died have blamed consumption of illicit liquor for the
tragedy. “They have said this in their written statement. However, the other four
families have cited prolonged illness as the reason. We are investigating,” the DIG
Quick action followed
The police have arrested 18 bootleggers and taken disciplinary action against cops who are suspected to have allowed illicit liquor trade in West Champaran. The area is divided into two police districts — Bagaha and Bettiah. “Two chowkidars (police personnel) and an officer-in-charge, K P Yadav (who had been filling in for SHO Rajeev Kumar Razak, who is on leave), have been suspended. All other personnel from Lauriya police station, including sub-inspectors and ASIs, have been sent to police lines,” said Upendra Nath Verma, Superintendent of Police (SP) of Bettiah police district.
In Bagaha police district, two chowkidars have been
suspended, and show-cause notices issued to Narkatiaganj sub-divisional police
officer (SDPO) Kundan Kumar, Ramnagar SDPO Arjun Lal, and station house
officers (SHOs) of Ramnagar and Sikarpur police stations, said Bagaha SP Kiran
Kumar Gorakh Jadhav.
In raids carried out in West Champaran since July 18, Police and excise department officials have seized about 3,800 litres of liquor, busted 12 illicit liquor-manufacturing units and arrested 121 people for allegedly manufacturing, hoarding and smuggling illicit liquor.
People in at least four villages of Ramnagar and Lauriya have lost their eyesight after drinking spurious liquor, according to media reports, though the district administration has confirmed only two cases.
Noor Alam Khan, a 45-year-old man from Maguraha Deoraj village in Ramnagar, left for a hospital in Nepal’s Parwanipur town on July 18 to get his eyes treated. “His condition deteriorated after drinking liquor on July 9. We took him to a doctor after he complained of abdominal cramps and started vomiting. He recovered, but his eyesight began to deteriorate,” said Alam's wife, who refused to share her name. Alam is now getting treated in the region’s biggest eye hospital.
Another survivor from Maguraha Deoraj, Sukhal Miyan
(55), said he fell unconscious some hours after he drank liquor at Hardiya. “I
was blind when I regained consciousness,” said Sukhal.
For the families of people who have died, the move to approach the police and excise department for justice has invited backlash from liquor smugglers and people who profit from the illicit trade. “We are being pressured to change the location where the deceased last drank (Hardiya village) in our statement,” said Wakil Khan (60), Taj’s brother-in-law and a resident of Sabeya.
Azad, who said he is satisfied with the police action so far, added that pressure was being built up by persons who appeared to be close associates of smugglers. “We will not buckle under any pressure," he said.
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