NHRC issues notice to the Government of Assam over hooch tragedy; also asks the Union Home Ministry to issue necessary directions to the Directors General of Police of all the States and UTs to enhance vigil to check illicit liquor menace (25.02.2019)

New Delhi, 25th February, 2019

The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, India has taken suo motu cognizance of media reports that the number of deaths climbed to 143 till the last Sunday after consuming toxic liquor in Golaghat and Jorhat districts of Assam on Thursday night. Reportedly, there are more than 300 people admitted for treatment in the hospitals. As per news report, the police authorities have expressed apprehension that the Methanol used in the hooch is the reason behind the deaths but the exact cause of death will be known only after the examinations are conducted.

The Commission has issued notices top the to the Chief Secretary, Government of Assam calling for a detailed report in the matter, within four weeks including action taken against the officers/officials, relief and rehabilitation provided to the victims and their dependents along with status of the medical treatment being provided to those who are still fighting for their lives in the hospitals.

The Commission also expects from the union Home Secretary to issue necessary directions to the Directors General of Police of all the States and UTs calling upon them to look into the matter personally and issue relevant guidelines to enhance police patrolling and vigil in the affected areas of their states and take strict legal action against the culprits. If necessary, special teams at the district level be constituted to clamp down on the perpetrators of law, in an effective manner. Response from the Union Home Secretary is expected within four weeks.

The Commission has observed that a few days back, it had expressed concern over the death of people in hooch tragedy in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand as apparently, the State authorities had failed to take effective measures and stringent action against the errant officials and the violators of law. It appears that this issue of spurious and illicit liquor is not restricted to one or two states rather it has become a serious issue at the national level. The law is very much in existence to deal with this menace but in view of present scenario, it seems that there is a need to sensitize the police and the excise authorities in the states to be more active and vigilant so that precious human lives are not lost. An effective mechanism is required to be evolved to curb the unlawful network of spurious liquor manufacturers and distributors who are playing with the lives of the innocent people.

According to the media reports, at least 20 people, have been arrested by the police in connection with the incident in Assam. During a raid at a godown, the police have recovered jaggery, alum and urea which are the main ingredients used in making the illicit liquor. The Excise Department has reportedly stated that the poor quality jaggery, meant for cattle feed is routed for making hooch and it is impossible to check its sale. The records furnished by the Excise Department however expose lapses on their part.

Reportedly, two persons were arrested from Jugibari village of district Golaghat in December, 2018. The village is adjacent to “Halmira Tea Estate” which supplies hooch to the local distributors. The distributors, reportedly, purchased five liter cans for between Rs. 350 to Rs. 450 to sell it to the consumers. One of the villagers had stated that there were at least three persons in the village, who instead of making hooch from jaggery, just mixed spirit with water and sold it openly. It is also mentioned in the news reports that some people mixed spirit with liquor before consuming, which led to their deaths. Reportedly, as many as five suspected distributors of the hooch were also among the dead.

As reported in the media, the State Excise Minister hadstated that the phenomenon of “Sulai” (hooch) consumption was not just restricted to Assam but all of the North-East. He promised to clamp down on the network of illicit distribution and take action against the guilty excise officials, after the inquiry. The news report also states that more than seven lakh liters of illegally distilled liquor had been seized in the State of Assam from April, 2016 to November, 2018.