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Bihar Hooch Tragedy: CM Nitish Kumar Refuses Compensation, Draws Flak From BJP, Supporter CPI(ML)-Liberation

Even as at least 38 people have died in Bihar from illicit liquor, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has refused to give compensation to the deceased. The Opposition BJP has highlighted that Nitish compensated victims in similar hooch tragedy in 2016. Nitish-supporter CPI(ML)-Liberation has also sought compensation and has announced street protests.

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Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar
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Even as at least 38 people have died from illicit liquor in Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's decision to not give compensation to the deceased has drawn flak from the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and even some allies.

Since the news of deaths in Bihar's Saran district first emerged earlier this week, Nitish has drawn flak for his reactions. First, Nitish lost his composure in the Bihar assembly and directly addressed fellow MLAs of BJP and lashed out at them. Then he drew criticism for saying that you would naturally die if you drink alcohol.

Nitish's Janta Dal-United (JDU) has argued that since selling and consuming alcohol is a crime in Bihar, compensating the deceased would amount to facilitating the crime.

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As of Saturday, at least 30 people are known to have died this week in Saran district, six in Siwan, and two in Begusarai. The number is the highest since Bihar sold the sale, manufacturing, and consumption of alcohol in 2016. Unconfirmed reports claimed that up to 60 people died by drinking illicitly brewed country liquor in Saran, according to PTI.

Nitish Kumar angry remarks, denial of compensation

After angrily lashing out at the Opposition BJP in Bihar assembly, Nitish drew flak by saying it's natural you would die if you drink alcohol.

Nitish also claimed that his government is willing to offer money to poor people to set up their own work to drive them away from alcohol business.

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Bihar Parliamentary Affairs minister Vijay Kumar Chaudhary said, “BJP members should understand that consuming liquor in Bihar is a crime and deaths thus caused cannot be compensated for. It will be tantamount to supporting liquor consumption”.

Flak over compensation denial

The Nitish Kumar government in Bihar has drawn flak, from adversaries as well as allies, over its refusal to pay compensation to family members of those who have died in the hooch tragedy.

Though the official death count comes at 38, as per PTI, the opposition BJP has claimed inside the Bihar assembly as well as in a memorandum submitted to Governor Phagu Chauhan that the number of deaths was "more than 100", a view echoed by Chirag Paswan, a BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) sympathiser and strident critic of Nitish.

"I visited Saran today to meet the bereaved family members and was appalled to learn that the administration was putting pressure on them not to report deaths caused by hooch or attribute these to other causes so that the magnitude of the tragedy is downplayed. I am told that the number of those who have died may be even as high as 200," Paswan told PTI-Bhasha over phone.

The Jamui MP also questioned the obstinacy of Nitish over paying ex-gratia to the bereaved family members, pointing out "why is he adopting double standards? The adjoining district of Gopalganj was struck by a hooch tragedy in 2016, shortly after the prohibition law had come into force. He compensated the victims then".

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Senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi also visited Saran separately and echoed similar views as that of Paswan.

"The CM had compensated the victims of Gopalganj in 2016 despite prohibition. Now he says that the liquor ban will be affected by compensating Saran victims. This shows that he is capable of taking a U-turn in every matter," said Modi.

Both Paswan and Modi were also livid over Kumar's repeated remark "piyoge to maroge" (if you drink, you shall be doomed to die) which they described as "highly insensitive".

Political strategist-turned-activist Prashant Kishor, a former close aide of Nitish, said the remark "piyoge to maroge" made him "regret having worked for Nitish Kumar, a man who was once conscientious enough to have resigned as railway minister in the wake of a train accident".

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Nitish supporter CPI (ML)-Liberation to hit streets

The CPI(ML)-Liberation, which supports Nitish's 'Mahagathbandhan' government from outside, called for "not just compensation but rehabilitation (punarvaas) of families" which may have been in dire straits upon the death of a breadwinner in the hooch tragedy.

In a statement, the CPI (ML)-Liberation said it will also hit the streets on Monday in protest against the "nexus between liquor mafia and the administrative machinery across the state". The party said it had sent a three-member delegation, comprising sitting and former MLAs, to Saran to take stock of the situation.

The statement said, "Most of the deceased belong to very poor families... The hooch tragedy has destroyed many homes. Its impact has now reached the adjoining district of Siwan.

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"The government must show sensitivity and agree to not just pay an ex-gratia but also take the responsibility of treatment of those who have fallen ill after consuming liquor, besides the education of the children of those who have died. It must also set up de-addiction centres so that the scourge of alcoholism may be nipped in the bud."

The BJP too has asked Nitish to reconsider the prohibition policy. BJP leader and Union minister Giriraj Singh asked Nitish to call an all-party meeting over prohibition policy.

"If a policy is not successful, then it should be reconsidered...Every day people in Bihar are dying due to spurious liquor while Kumar remains obstinate about his policy which has failed. Crime is on a rise. Liquor has become like God which may not be visible but is present everywhere in the state," Singh said.

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(With PTI inputs)

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