Police and excise sleuths in Assam arrested at least 30 persons so far for allegedly running illegal liquor business as the death toll in hooch tragedy in two districts reached 143 on Sunday.
As the death toll continue to increase, Congress president Rahul Gandhi blamed the “apathy and incompetence” of the BJP-led government in the state, for the deaths. “The apathy and incompetence of Assam government have resulted in the tragic deaths of over 140 people with scores of victims in hospitals, poisoned by toxic alcohol,” Rahul tweeted.
At least 46 of the deceased, most of whom are tea garden workers, were women.
Golaghat district reported 85 deaths, while the number in the neighbouring Jorhat touched 58. Nearly 170 others are still admitted in hospitals in the two districts and the death toll may increase further, officials said.
The tragic incident began on Friday evening as four workers belonging to Halmira tea estate in Golaghat district were rushed to a local government hospital died around 7.30pm on Thursday. They died after allegedly consuming toxic country liquor.
Drinking of country liquor is rampant among tea garden workers, who constitute nearly 20% of the state's total population. DH on Saturday highlighted how harmful materials like urea, rat poison and waste jaggery are used by the racket running the illegal country liquor business, mainly in the state’s tea estates. The harmful chemicals probably had poisoned the liquor.
Excise department officials said over 100 cases have been registered so far and 20 persons arrested while a crackdown was launched against illegal liquor business. Police also arrested at least 10 others in the two districts.
The shocking incident invited sharp criticism to the BJP-led government with the opposition Congress demanding the resignation of chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal and excise minister Parimal Suklabaidya. The excise minister on Sunday visited the victims admitted in hospital and held a meeting with officials, in which he directed for stringent action against those responsible for the deaths.
The former chief minister and veteran Congress leader Tarun Gogoi on Sunday termed the excise department "murderer" and held it responsible for the deaths.