Rajat Sharma

Bihar hooch tragedy: Police raids to cover up Nitish Kumar’s failure

akbAs the death toll in Bihar hooch tragedy touched 75 on Tuesday, raids were conducted as part of Operation Clean Drive in Patna, Danapur, Saran and Muzaffarpur to seize illicit liquor on Sunday and Monday. In Dhangar Toli of West Champaran, several people, including women, working for local liquor mafia attacked an excise party injuring two persons.

The Special Investigation Team has arrested a local liquor trader Akhilesh Rai alias Yadav from Isuapur in Saran district, and seized Rs 2.17 lakh cash from his locations. More than 28 people connected with liquor trade have been arrested in Saran district alone. Thirty-one people have lost their eyesight after consuming illicit hooch.

In my primetime show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ telecast on Monday night on India TV, we showed how police used drone cameras to search for illicit hooch hearths and zeroed in on those locations. Bihar Police has now got a new Director General of Police, Rajvinder Singh Bhatti, who is now overseeing the anti-liquor mafia drive. For the first time, police ventured into the forested area in riverine islands (Diyara) to locate and seize illicit liquor making dens. Boats were used by police to cross the river and enter the zone, where normally police fear to enter even during daytime. Police managed to seize and destroy several hooch making dens, but liquor mafia traders managed to escape. Why? Did somebody provide advance information to them?

India TV reporters Nitish Chandra and Pawan Nara went into the riverine forested area with police raiding teams. The amount of illicit liquor seized is enough to reject the state government’s claim that prohibition was enforced strictly during the last six years. While opposition leaders are alleging that more than 100 people have died of poisonous liquor during the last one week, the government is sticking to its official figure of 38 liquor-related deaths.

Bihar police knew that illicit hooch was being manufactured in the riverine forest islands across the vast swathe of river Ganga. Using drone cameras, the raiding team went at least 3.5 kilometre inside the catchment forest area, at a place between Patna and Chhapra, and unearthed hooch making dens. There was not a single bootlegger present. Only drums and jars filled with illicit hooch was seized. The entire raid was videographed. Since 20,000 litres of illicit hooch was seized, and it was difficult to carry by boats, the entire seized liquor was emptied into the river by police. The empty drums and liquor making paraphernalia was set on fire by police.

In Maner locality of Patna too, police destroyed illicit hooch making dens in the riverine island of Rampur Sone river. Thousands of litres of hooch was found hidden in drums and polythene bags, while hundreds of litres of liquor was hidden underground. Police could arrest only six persons engaged in hooch making in Maner.

In the densely populated locality of Danapur, near Digha AIIMS flyover, police seized a drum, gallon and polythene bag full of mahua, jawa and jaggery, dug inside the ground. A police official said, a similar raid had taken place two days ago, but within 48 hours, hooch making was resumed. In Muzaffarpur, police seized 112 cartons carrying 960 litres of Indian Made Foreign Liquor from a pickup ban near Ramnagar Chowk.
Nitish Kumar’s government may claim that such raids are proof of its strong will to root out liquor mafia, but I think, these raids are of a cosmetic nature.

India TV reporter Nitish Chandra was with police raiding teams throughout the day on Monday, and sent videos, which clearly indicate that there is complete rule of liquor mafia in those areas. Policemen feared to tread into their domain. One riverine forested island of river Ganga was witness to a firing between two groups of sand mafia a few days ago. Five people died, but police stood helpless on the riverbanks. The killers fled away with impunity, and only much later, did policemen gather the courage to pick up the bodies.

It has been an open secret for the last six years that the riverine islands, where raids were conducted on Monday, are home to a thriving illicit hooch trade. Illicit hooch was being made fearlessly, in hearths using all implements in the open, for the last six years by the local mafia. Bihar police had drones, boats and adequate staff to take action. The prohibition law was not made recently. People were dying of illicit hooch not for the first time.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has not vowed to root out liquor trade for the first time. It was only when people started dying in scores, and the national media showed the bodies of victims, the opposition raised a hue and cry, and the ‘su-shashan’(good governance) chimera of Nitish Kumar’s rule was exposed, that the police took out their rifles, drones and boats, and went to destroy the liquor making dens.

Had the state police taken action years ago, hundreds of families would not have wept for their loved ones. So many funeral pyres would not have burnt. Hundreds of children would not have been orphaned. The Prohibition Minister of Bihar, Sunil Kumar, stood by his claim that only 38 persons died after consuming poisonous hooch. The minister blamed the media for “blowing the matter out of proportion”. He started giving figures of more illicit hooch deaths in other states compared to Bihar. But, his own ally, Congress is not ready to accept his figure as gospel truth.

Congress leader Ajit Sharma said, more than 100 people may have died by consuming illicit liquor. Kedarnath Singh, an MLA belonging to another ally, RJD, said the minister’s claim was incorrect. He said, more than 60 people have died of spurious liquor in Chhapra alone. The Opposition has demanded that the government must come out with true facts and figures about spurious liquor deaths. CPI(ML) legislators, who support the government, staged a protest over hooch deaths on Monday.

Despite such hue and cry over deaths, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar continues to parrot the line that death due to illicit liquor is not new. He said, such deaths take place everywhere and Bihar was being defamed. The chief minister is adamant that his government will not pay compensation to the kin of victims. But now that the matter has become serious, even RJD, JD(U), Congress and Left MLAs are also demanding that compensation should be given.

BJP leader and Union Minister Giriraj Singh said, Nitish Kumar is giving weak arguments and is trying to mislead people on the issue of prohibition. “Illicit hooch is being made and sold under the very nose of government, and this is a clear proof of his government’s failure. Let him close down all police stations. Criminals will go to jails on their own”, he said in a mocking tone.

Giriraj Singh is right: Nitish Kumar is giving weak arguments, telling untruths to save his so-called clean image. If Nitish Kumar says, “jo piyega who marega” (those who drink, will die), then, its corollary is, “jo pilayega who mouj karega” (Those who make others drink will enjoy). Those who consumed poisonous liquor lost their lives, but their children have become orphans and their wives have become widows. They are the victims of the government’s callousness, negligence, corruption and open collusion with mafia. Why shouldn’t these victims be given compensation? These victims did not drink liquor. They have not committed any sin. In 2016, when people died after consuming illicit liquor in Gopalganj, Nitish Kumar’s government gave Rs 4 lakhs to each of the kin of those dead. Are compensation rules different for people of Gopalganj?

The bitter truth is: Nitish Kumar is desperately trying to hide his failure. The list of 75 people who died carries their names and details. But his government is stuck on the figure of 38 deaths. Pressure is being put on their kin to cremate the bodies without any post-mortem. The government is making a mockery of the kin of those dead, instead of showing sympathy. Even legislators who support the government are worried, but Nitish Kumar continues to move around with a smile. The people of Bihar will not tolerate such smiles at a time of tragedy. People are openly questioning whether this is Nitish Kumar’s ‘su—shashan’ (good governance)?

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