The killer nexus: Spurious liquor flows unabated in villages
Just two days after 18 people died in Barabanki after consuming spurious liquor, three people died in neighbouring Sitapur district. Every time people die after consuming illicit alcohol, authorities seem to crack down. But once the dust settles, business from spurious liquor thrives as usual
Swati Subhedar & Ranvijay Singh
Six-year-old Raju was roaming around barefoot in his village looking for his baba (father). Every morning his baba would give him Rs 2 as pocket money. That morning he did not get his share.
Disappointed, he knocked on many doors looking for his baba. Many people gave him petty cash to pacify him. At the end of the day, he had Rs 15 in his pocket, but he could not find his baba.
His baba had died that morning. Spurious liquor killed him.
Every time people die after consuming spurious liquor, the knee-jerk reaction of authorities is to make random arrests, detain bootleggers and impose a temporary ban on cheap alcohol. But once the dust settles, business from spurious liquor thrives as usual.
Raju lives in Mahar village in Barabanki district, 64 kms from Uttar Pradesh's capital Lucknow. His father Surya Prakash, 35, had consumed spurious liquor the previous night. He fell ill. By the morning, he was dead.
Raju's mother, Shiv Devi, 32, kept telling Raju that his father had gone to a doctor and would come back soon. By evening, she stood numb outside her house, sobbing uncontrollably, holding her 6-month-old baby. "What will happen to me and my kids now." That's all she could manage to say. Standing next to her was Raju, holding Rs 15 in his hands.
Just two days after 18 people, all residents of Suratganj village in Barabanki district, lost their lives and 40 took seriously ill, on Thursday, 3 people died in neighbouring Sitapur district after consuming spurious liquor. Five are in serious condition. The number of deaths is likely to go up.
LR Kumar, SP, Sitapur confirmed that people died after consuming spurious liquor. "We have filed an FIR. We are investigating the case," he said.
The Barabanki hooch tragedy victims, all from poor families, had bought liquor from a shop in Raniganj, which was allotted by the excise department. Pappu Jaiswal, the main accused, was arrested the next day after an encounter with the Uttar Pradesh police. The arrest of two other key accused has exposed an alleged nexus of excise officials and spurious liquor sellers, mainly in rural areas of Barabanki.
"Yes, I accept that there is a nexus. If so many people are dying at such regular intervals, we can't deny the fact. There is a need to address this problem," said
Sarvesh Mishra, Additional SP, Lucknow.
A report brought out by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) attributed 1,522 deaths in the entire country to consumption of illicit/spurious liquor in 2015 — the year for which records are last available. The victims were mostly poor people. An NCRB data published in 2013 said close to 5,000 people died due to alcohol consumption.
About 70% of these deaths occur in eight states, including Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and even Gujarat, where there is an official prohibition in place, according to the data available with the Ministry of Home Affairs.
According to the World Health Organisation's Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2018, India's per capita alcohol consumption stood at 2.4 litres, 4.3 litres and 5.7 litres in 2005, 2010 and 2016 respectively. The report predicts India's per capita consumption will increase further by 2.2 litres by 2025.
'Your papa is not going to come back ever'
Many villages under Barabanki's Ram Nagar police station are dealing with the problem of availability of cheap alcohol. There are many kids like Raju who have lost their fathers to a corrupt system.
Sandhya, 11, lost her father in this tragedy. She is elder to Raju hence she understands the gravity of the situation. She broke down every time she saw her mother, Ramwati Devi, 30, cry. Her mother was holding her younger daughter, 11-months-old Shivangi. She muttered to her toddler, "Your papa is not going to come back ever."
Four people died in Sandhya's family -- her father, two uncles and grand-father.
Meanwhile, at Ramvati's home, her father is furious. "Every single person in the village knew who was selling the killer liquor and who all were involved, yet not a single person took any action. My daughter's life is ruined because of these people. What will happen to her daughters now?"
Shivkumar, 50, lived in Amrai Bhund village. He too died in this tragedy. His wife, Siyarani, 45, said: "He came home after consuming alcohol. He told me he felt uncomfortable. After a while he could not see anything. We took him to a hospital, but he could not survive." The couple has three children – a son, 12, and two daughters, who are 18 and 15, respectively.
These villagers have been staging protests against those who were selling illicit alcohol. But they were not taken seriously. Almost all families pointed their fingers at Pappu Jaiswal, who was arrested after an encounter the next day. He lives in Barabanki's Raniganj. An FIR has been filed against five people.
"This Pappu Jaiswal used to run this shop along with his relatives. He used to procure liquor from Haryana, mix it and sell it. A few people had taken ill after consuming alcohol on Holi. But Jaiswal bribed police officials and the matter ended there. He would often beat people up," said Ambuj Kumar Yadav, 22, whose uncle Pannalal Yadav, 40, died in the tragedy.
Soon after consuming alcohol, people started vomiting. They lost their vision and complained of breathlessness. Many died before they reached hospital.
Killer brew and the way ahead
The spurious brew is usually sold in plastic pouches costing Rs 10-30. That's all a poor person can afford. There have been talks that legal liquor should be made cheaper. However, liquor provides up to 20% of the total tax revenues in most states because of which state governments are against any reduction in excise duty.
The result is that liquor is unaffordable to most and hence such businesses thrive.
As per an existing Act, only gazetted officers can go and raid illicit liquor shops. Is this proving to be a hindrance considering there are so much illicit liquor shops, but very few gazetted officers?
"Well, it's an Act so there is nothing we can do about it. In a way it's good that power does not lie solely with the police department. This may lead to corruption. Having said this, when local police officers come to know about any illegal activity pertaining to manufacturing or sale of spurious alcohol, we can take action. We are allowed to raid shops, seize liquor or conduct investigation," said Additional SP Sarvesh Mishra.
"The police department actively deals with such cases, but the need of the hour is to find source of such businesses. It will be easy for us to crack these cases if we come to know where spurious liquor is made and who are the people involved," he said.
He further added: "We should conduct surprise check and samples should be sent for checking on a regular basis. We need to strengthen our intelligence mechanism so that we keep getting proper information. Right now, we are spending most of our time on law enforcement and investigation when we should be spending quality time on information gathering. To solve any crime, solid information plays 90% role, whereas investigation plays a 10% role."
It may take a while for authorities to fix the corrupt system. But lives of Barabanki hooch tragedy victims, have changed forever.
"All I know is that my papa consumed alcohol and he died. He is not coming back ever again," said Seema, 11, who lost her father.