Thirty-eight people have died in Punjab's three districts allegedly after drinking spurious liquor, prompting Chief Minister Amarinder Singh to order a magisterial probe, officials said on Friday.
According to them, while 19 people died in Tarn Taran, spurious liquor claimed 10 lives in Amritsar and nine in Batala since Wednesday night.
Police have arrested eight bootleggers, including a woman, in this regard.
The SHO of the Tarsikka police station, Bikramjit Singh, has been suspended, Amritsar’s SSP (Rural) Vikramjit Singh Duggal said.
Reacting to the incidents, the Opposition AAP demanded Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s resignation.
The Shiromani Akali Dal too sought a judicial probe by a sitting judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
In a crackdown on Friday, the Punjab Police arrested seven bootleggers in over 40 raids in Amritsar, Batala and Tarn Taran.
A woman was held on Thursday night from Muchhal village in Amritsar's Tarsikka, DGP Dinkar Gupta said.
The DGP said the death toll could rise further as the spurious liquor network was spread across many areas.
He said the questioning of the arrested was expected to lead to further arrests in the case.
Gupta said a huge quantity of spurious liquor, drums and storage cans were recovered from the accused and these have been sent for a chemical analysis.
More arrests are likely, he said, adding that the raids are being conducted to nab those involved in the case.
According to police, while Balwinder Kaur and Mithu were arrested from Amritsar, two people, identified as Darshan Rani and Rajan, were nabbed from Batala district.
Four others--Kashmir Singh, Angrez Singh, Amarjit and Baljit--were arrested from Tarn Taran.
The DGP said those arrested from Tarn Taran had admitted to supplying spurious liquor in Norangabad village.
Mithu, who was arrested from Jasso Nangal village of Khilchian, has also admitted to his role in supplying spurious liquor, said the DGP.
Earlier in the day, an official statement said Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the deaths by the Divisional Commissioner, Jalandhar.
The inquiry will look into the facts and circumstances leading to the incidents, it said.
It will be conducted by the Divisional Commissioner, Jalandhar, along with the Punjab Joint Excise and Taxation Commissioner and the SP (Investigation) in districts concerned.
The CM has given the Divisional Commissioner the liberty to co-opt any civil/police officer or any expert to facilitate the expeditious conduct of the probe.
The Shiromani Akali Dal rejected the Divisional Commissioner-level inquiry and demanded a judicial probe by a sitting judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
SAD leader Daljit Cheema said preliminary reports indicated that the supply of spurious liquor was widespread and required a thorough investigation by an independent agency.
Cheema alleged that there was the sale of illegal liquor directly from distilleries, which are “patronised by Congress leaders”.
In a tweet, SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal said, “My heart goes out to the families who lost members in perhaps the worst #hooch tragedy in the state. Congress has blood of these Punjabis on its hand & @capt amarinder is too busy in publicity video shoots to act against his party colleagues responsible for this human tragedy”.
Aam Aadmi Party said the magisterial inquiry won't work, with party's senior leader and MLA Aman Arora saying the party demands the resignation of the chief minister.
“Being the Minister for Excise and Taxation and Home Minister, Amarinder Singh cannot escape from the responsibility of these deaths,” the AAP leader said.
Congress MP Pratap Singh Bajwa also demanded a time-bound inquiry by a sitting high court judge, saying it was needed "to unearth the truth behind the deaths due to spurious liquor.
Meanwhile, Sheela Devi, mother of deceased Bhupinder Singh, told reporters in Batala that his 24-year-old son had consumed liquor from a shop located near the Hathi Gate area. He fell unconscious after a few hours, she said.
“He complained of discomfort and nausea and a few minutes later, he was no more,” she said.
Many locals in Batala alleged that illegal illicit liquor was being openly sold in the Hathi Gate locality but no action was taken by the authorities.
Rahul, a nephew of another victim Buta Ram, said his 40-year-old uncle consumed liquor Thursday evening.
“He was lying on the floor outside our residence while froth came out from his mouth,” he said, adding that he was taken to the Batala Civil Hospital, where he was declared dead by doctors.
Batala Senior Medical Officer Sanjiv Bhalla said the reason of the death will be clear only after a post-mortem.
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