‘Urea, rat poison used in making liquor’

Officials of Assam's Excise Department and District Administration destroying units, making illicit liquors in Golaghat and other areas of the state. More than 15,000 litres of liquor has been destroyed till now. (PTI Photo)

As the Sun sets, “merriment” begins in the labour colonies of Assam tea gardens every day—merriment over bottles of easily available country liquor.

This rampant practice of liquor consumption since the British days has helped a racket of illegal liquor traders to flourish and use every possible chemicals—from urea to rat poison and rotten jaggery for quick fermentation and a strong kick.

“Normally, fermentation of the brew needs at least four to five days. But the traders dont’ wait and use strong chemicals like urea, rotten jaggery, battery oil or even rat poison for fermentation in a day or two. These chemicals affect their liver, kidney and lungs. When the chemicals are used in disproportionate quantity, the liquor turns toxic,” said Chiranjeeb Kakoty, a physician-based here, who worked in tea gardens in tea rich Golaghat, Jorhat and Dibrugarh districts in upper Assam. Kakoty runs a drug de-addiction centre, here, too.

At least 102 tea garden workers died and another 200 fell ill after they allegedly consumed spurious liquor in Golaghat and Jorhat districts since Thursday evening. At least 10 garden workers had similarly died in Golaghat district last year. The tea garden workers, who constitute nearly 20% of Assam’s total population, were brought mainly from Jharkhand, Odisha and Bihar by the British to plant, grow and pluck tea.

The All Adivasi Students’ Association of Assam (AASAA), however, attributed the old liquor problem to the British-era practice of free distribution of rice beer among garden workers to extract extra hours of work from them.

“This made many addicts and the practice continues even today. A racket of traders are taking this advantage and supplying liquor inside the gardens,” general secretary of the association, Deben Orang told DH on Saturday.

Assam grows more than 50% of the country’s total tea production but the poor condition of the garden workers is a constant worry. Low wage, low literacy, malnutrition and liquor addiction are some of the major concerns.

The garden workers are now paid a daily wage of Rs. 167 but their demand for Rs. 350 has remained unfulfilled.“Since their wage is less, some garden workers sell liquor to earn extra. This illegal business has continued also due to collusion among excise department officials and no action plan by the government to check the menace,” Orang said.

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