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Bihar hooch tragedy deaths: PIL in SC seeks SIT probe & compensation

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New Delhi: An NGO, Aryavartha Mahasabha Foundation, has knocked the doors of the Supreme Court and sought an SIT (Special Investigation Team) probe in Chapra hooch tragedy deaths in Bihar and formulation of action plan to curb the manufacturing, trading and sale of illicit liquor.

The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by NGO, Aryavartha Mahasabha Foundation, filed before the Supreme Court, also further sought appropriate compensation for the victims’ families.

“The plea sought that the Centre should be directed to formulate a national action plan to curb manufacturing, trading and sale of illicit liqour, before seeking an SIT probe in Bihar (Chapra) hooch tragedy, and appropriate compensation to the victims family members,” the PIL said.

The PIL today also mentioned before the CJI for an urgent hearing. The CJI said, he will look into the issue and list it.

The 37-page PIL filed before the Supreme Court, said the recent hooch tragedy in the state of Bihar on December 14, 2022 in District Chapra, in Bihar, has caused a furore in the country. With political parties training their guns on each other, as many as 40 people have died so far after consuming spurious liquor. While others have been hospitalised and there is no official report on the incident.

The plea also said this is not the first time that India has reported an incident of people dying after consuming spurious liquor. A similar case was reported from Gujraat, Punjab & Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Karnataka in recent years as well causing loss of life.

“Hooch is a kind of liquor which is cheap, brewed in small unregulated shanties and does not attract excise tax. This inferior quality drink is usually made after mixing chemicals with water, which is then consumed by the people. It is more so commonly sold in states that have imposed a full ban on liquor in the state, thereby, making more people fall prey,” the petition filed before the Supreme Court said.

Presently, four states (Gujarat, Bihar, Nagaland, and Mizoram) have laws which completely prohibit the sale of alcohol. The Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016 was enacted to enforce a complete prohibition of liquor in Bihar. Under the Act, manufacturing, bottling, distribution, transportation, collection, storage, sale, possession, purchase, or consumption of any intoxicant or liquor is prohibited, it said.

From 2018 to 2020, over 45,000 FIRs were registered under the Act every year. Further, during this period, the number of cases pending trial before courts almost quadrupled. More than 40,000 people were arrested under the Act each year from 2018 to 2020. The Act was amended in 2018 to make certain penalties less stringent, it said.

“That ever since the Bihar government prohibited liquor sales in the state in 2016, it has invited scathing criticism for is substantial failure to implement the ban and for the several adverse consequences that the move has thrust on the people of Bihar. One of the axioms of governance is that any policy with political, social, economic, or other value ought to be first examined in the scale of implementability. What is not implementable may not be operationalised despite the nobility of the cause. Bihar has failed to apply this simple test in the present instance,” the plea said.

The state shares its borders with Nepal, West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh. None of these states practise prohibition, and there is evidence that liquor is flowing into Bihar from the neighbouring states, given West Bengal and Jharkhand’s phenomenal rise in excise revenue, the petition said.

As multiple hooch tragedies, resulting in scores of deaths, struck Bihar, the state’s prohibition policy came under increasing attack. The frustration of the judiciary was writ large in a recent judgment (October 2022) of the Patna High Court. The judge pronounced that the Bihar government had failed to implement prohibition. The state had witnessed many hooch tragedies putting public life at significant risk. This has led to adverse consequences, such as a rise in crimes that included bootlegging by juveniles, villagers, politicians, and cops, the plea said.

The court further observed that liquor is freely available in the state, that minors were transporting liquor, and that drug consumption had increased post-liquor ban. He found fewer cases registered against the lynching of liquor cartels than poor people caught drinking. Investigating officers deliberately avoided corroborating allegations with evidence, allowing the mafia a free run, the petition filed before the Supreme Court said.

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