New Delhi: One hundred and forty tea garden workers in Assam have died after consuming toxic liquor, while over 300 others have been hospitalised.
The incident took place on Thursday evening when the workers at Salmara tea garden had consumed the liquor. The deaths come less than two weeks after more than 100 people died from drinking spurious alcohol in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.
The police have so far arrested 12 people, including the owners of the illegal country-made liquor factory, in Jugibaari area near the garden.
Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the "death toll and the number of people admitted is changing minute to minute".
Asked if spurious liquor is still being sold in view of fresh cases being reported, Sarma said, "Patients who had developed complications two-three days ago are coming now. Some who had consumed liquor earlier are coming for treatment after hearing the news of the hooch tragedy out of fear. These people are psychologically in shock and so they think they are ill."
"Doctors from nearby districts and other medical colleges have been rushed in to deal with the crisis," said Sarma, after visiting patients at Jorhat, located some 300 kilometres east of the state's financial hub, Guwahati.
Meanwhile, the government has announced ex-gratia relief of Rs 2 lakh for the kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for those who are hospitalised.
The government has ordered a probe. Two excise officials of Salmara area have been suspended for neglect. “We will investigate the incident. The guilty won’t be spared,” said Golaghat Deputy Commissioner Dhiren Hazarika while speaking to News 18 Assam Northeast.
Meanwhile, local resident Prabin Das, who heads a committee demanding prohibition of liquor, was allegedly attacked by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) activists in Golaghat when he blamed the state excise department for its failure in checking the manufacture of spurious liquor. “It all happens because of a nexus between the excise department and illicit liquor manufacturers,” said Das.
On the other hand, opposition Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) president has demanded adequate compensation for the families of the victims.
The death tolls from the two recent incidents, however, are believed to be the deadliest since a similar case killed 172 in West Bengal in 2011.
Dilip Rajbnonshi, a doctor at the government hospital in Golaghat, located some 40 kilometres southwest of Jorhat said the deaths were due to "spurious country liquor".
A number of women are among the casualties. Many of those that drank the liquor were tea plantation workers who had just received their weekly wages, according to another state government official.
(With inputs from PTI)