Odisha Hooch Tragedy: Do We learn from Mistakes?

By Chinamyee Dash: The recent deaths at the SCB Medical College and Hospital in Cuttack due to intake of spurious liquor remind us the hooch tragedy of 2006 and 1992 that had hit headlines.

Sad to say, the governments and administration did not take any serious action against illegal liquor shops across Odisha to prevent another major toxic liquor tragedy in February 2012.

The incident hit headlines when over 30 people died after consuming spurious liquor from several liquor shops including a joint in Mahidharpada area of Cuttack and a few in Khurda district. More than 50 got treated for many days at the SCB Medical College and Hospital.

Police said that the liquor contained medicines, which were used to treat cold, cough and to dress wounds. The so-called cocktail drink (liquor and expired medicines) claimed several lives in Odisha.

However, District collector refused to term the case as “hooch tragedy”, saying the people died after consuming spurious medicines not liquor. The statement suggested that the administration is not in mood to admit its mistakes and tried to divert the case.

State excise minister AU Singhdeo resigned from his post on moral ground, but never admitted that his department was responsible for the tragedy. The main opposition Congress alleged that Sighdeo had direct links with liquor mafias in the state.

The government has appointed a retired judge of Orissa High Court Justice AS Naidu for a judicial probe into the hooch tragedy in Cuttack and Khurda.

Even three department officials were suspended and the state Excise Commissioner and the Controller of Drugs were removed from their posts after the incident. Meanwhile, a massive operation has been launched across the state against illegal liquor trade.

The question arises, did the sleeping government wake up now to check the illegal liquor trade? Who is responsible for the tragedy? Dirty politics or officials who want to make some fast buck or the common people? It has to be noted that the tragedy struck the districts ahead of the Panchayat polls in the state and the victims were the poor labourers.

Many things could be assumed, but we cannot reach any conclusion at this moment, as Justice Naidu has been asked to submit his report within six months.

This is not for the first time people fell victim to spurious liquor in the state. Earlier, the hooch tragedy had struck Cuttack district by killing more than 200 people in 1992. Around 600 people were hospitalised after consuming illegally brewed poisonous liquor at that time.

Several women’s organisations had demanded total ban on the sale and manufacturing of liquor and the state government was forced to impose a ban order on alcohol in 1994.

However, the next government led by the Congress Party had lifted the ban order in 1995 citing the state’s interest. The government said that ban on alcohol had caused a huge loss in revenue. Again, more than 20 people were killed in Ganjam district in 2006.

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