Bihar PUCL Report:

Hooch Tragedy at Patna

Bihar State PUCL constituted a fact finding committee consisting of Dr. Prabhakar Sinha, National Vice president, Prof. Vinay Kumar Kanth, State Vice President, Shri Kishori Das, State General Secretary, and Dr. BD Prasad, member to investigate the cause and circumstances of the death of five persons at Jogipur, Hanuman Nagar, Patna on 23 and 24 March 2000. Their death was admittedly caused by hooch, which they had allegedly consumed. The request for the investigation led to the question whether it was a human rights issue. However, in view of the wide belief and allegation that distillation and sale of illicit liquor, with the connivance or complicity of the police and excise personal, is rampant in the State and often leads to violation of civil liberties and police atrocities, it was decided to take up the case.

The PUCL had investigated the police firing at Murlichak, Jadeo path, Patna on August 7, 1999 in which it was found that the Excise personnel had raided the Musahari located at Murlichak, Patna to nab some people making illicit liquor. They entered huts without a warrant for search, misbehaved and finally opened fire leading to the death of two persons and injuries to one. Similarly, one person who was allegedly arrested for selling illicit liquor died recently in the police custody. In the present case five persons lost their lives because the police and excise officers connived at the sale of the illicit liquor which caused the deaths. Besides, it was not a unique case, and such deaths had been reported earlier also. Death due to consumption of illicit liquor was reported from time to time from different parts of the state, for example, as reported by newspapers last year also during Holi, 17 persons had died after consuming liquor.

All these weighed in favour of taking up the case for investigation. The committee visited the place of occurrence on 29 March 2000 and met a large number of people including the members of the families of the deceased. It also visited Patrakar Nagar Police Station, perused the FIR filed after the incident and talked to Shri J.N. Prasad, the officer in the charge of Thana. A case has been registered bearing No. 173/2000 under section 328, 34 and 302 of the IPC.

Some of the people who spoke to the committee are Ramanand Rai, Ganauri Prasad Rajehswar Prasad, Uday Prakash, Sukesh Kumar and a large number of women. Surendra Sahni, who also had consumed the liquor and was taken ill but subsequently cured, spoke to the committee.

The Incident: There is a 'Gumti' owned by one Kamindar where he deals in illicit liquor. It is located near Maila Tanki Jogipur Nahar, Hanuman Nagar, and Patna. Several persons including the deceased bought pouches containing illicit liquor on 22 March 2000 in the forenoon and consumed it. Later in the afternoon or in the evening, they felt a burning sensation in the stomach, loss of eyesight, ache in the body and weakness. Some people also vomited. They were taken to the hospital where they died.

The following persons losts their lives:

  1. Munna Rai (28-30) worked at a grille shop. He has left behind his wife and three children who are very young.
  2. Shyam Babu (45) reportedly had a B.Sc. degree and had run a school earlier.
  3. Jag Narain Rai (85) devoted his time to the Pooja of Shiva and virtually lived in a Mandir located near his house.
  4. Ashok Rajak (25) was a washerman, and was very poor. He has left behind his wife and three children. He acted rashly in drinking even after he knew of the death caused by the drink. He reportedly declared, "Did I die after drinking? Nothing will happen to me." He was taken to hospital when he complained of loss of eyesight.
  5. Phulwa Devi (36) was very poor woman who used to pick rubbish (Kachara) for a living.

The following were taken ill, but recovered after they received treatment at the Patna Medical college Hospital: Surendra Sahni (30); Bijay Choudhary (30); Deepak Sahni (26); Arjun Yadav (35); Shyam babu (55); Ravidas. Following the deaths caused by the consumption of the illicit liquor (which was sold at the rate of Rs.8/- only per pouch containing 200 ml.) Vijay Kumar, the SI in charge of Patrakar Nagar Thana and two officials of the Excise Department, namely, Vijay Kumar (Inspector) and Ajay Kumar (Sub inspector) were suspended.

The people of the locality blamed the administration. Some said, "The administration knows all. The policemen only roam about in their vehicles (Gadi) overlooking the illicit business. They are only interested in extorting money from those selling coal, etc. They are solely responsible." Others alleged, "The police harass the poor vendors of vegetables, but allow the illegal sale of illicit liquor. The liquor shop should be closed in our locality.'

Findings: In the present case, there is no dispute on facts. Even the authorities have admitted that the deaths were caused by the consumption of liquor. The lapse on the part of two officers of the locality has been admitted leading to the suspension of Bijay Kumar, SI and Vijay Kumar and Ajay Kumar of the Excise department. From the unanimous opinion of the villagers based on their personal knowledge, it is clear that the sale of illicit liquor from the illegal Gumti has been going on for a long time with the full knowledge of the police and Excise personnel. The locality is also fully familiar with the owner of the seller, Kaminder Rai. He has also been named in the FIR pertaining to Patrakar Nagar Case No. 173/2000 along with one Jhallan Rai son of Chhabinath Rai.

The fact that such illicit business has been going on in the Capital of the state lends credence to the allegation that the illicit distillation and sale of liquor is allowed to flourish without any let or hindrance by the authorities.

Recommendations: The following recommendations are made:

Suggestion: The government has not been paying attention to this problem, which has been causing death, and misery to the poor. According to a press report 10 persons died in Patna city about four years ago, 33 persons died at Katihar about two years ago, and 37 persons died at Barhi about six years ago (The Hindustan 25 March, 2000). In another news item 'Badastur Jari Hai Jahrili Sharab Ka Dhandha', the Daily names the places where the illicit business has been going on with the connivance of the authorities, specially the police. The areas mentioned are Gandhi Chowk, Mahendru, Begampur mohalla of Patna City, by the side of the rail line near Agamkuan Mandir, in front of Prem Chand Rangshala, under the bridge, Rajendranagar, Ashoknagar of Kankarbagh, Navratanpura, Hostel Park, Tempo Stand. It has also been reported that the open sale of the illicit liquor goes on without let and hindrance from Hanuman Mandir to Chawal Ki Mandi Chitkohra, Road No. 15, Gardanibagh, Dhobighat near Sachivalaya and Mandiri. It is also sold in other areas including Kurji. The fact that even after such detailed information provided by the newspaper no action has been taken is a conclusive proof of the evasion of the responsibility by the government and complicity of the local officials concerned. It was widely believed by the people we met and also others that the illegal activity also has the patronage at the political level.

It is suggested that the government should give top priority to checking this nefarious activity, which has been causing death and destruction to the poor who are the ones to drink this poison to death or their ruin. A drive against this menace should be initiated to end it, and the people should also be educated to desist from drinking. The full name of Excise Department is Department of Excise and Prohibition. It is part of the responsibility of the department to contain drinking habits and reportedly there are annual financial allocations for the same, which are routinely surrendered. Community level campaigns may be taken up with the help of credible non-governmental organizations. A campaign against the illicit distillation and sale of liquor as well as a campaign to educate the people would go a long way in saving lives and financial ruin of the poor who generally are the victims.

-- Prabhakar Sinha, (National Vice president); Vinay Kumar Kanth (State Vice President); Kishori Das (State General Secretary); B D Prasad (Member

(PUCL Bulletin, August 2000)

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