22 arrested in Assam hooch tragedy; death toll rises to 157

Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal talks to a victim of the Assam hooch tragedy at Golaghat Civil Hospital in Assam on February 23, 2019. Photograph:( IANS )

PTI Guwahati, Assam, India Feb 25, 2019, 09.26 PM (IST)

As many as 157 people, mostly tea garden workers, have so far died in Assam hooch tragedy and more than 300 others are still undergoing treatment in hospitals in the affected districts of Golaghat and Jorhat while 22 people have been arrested in connection with the incident, officials said on Monday.

With the death toll continuing to mount since Thursday night, the BJP government drew flak from the opposition Congress which accused it of being indifferent to the plight of victims and demanded a CBI inquiry into the incident saying "a tragedy of this magnitude has never taken place in Assam's history". 

Excise Minister Parimal Suklabaidya directed district officers to crack down on sale and production of illicit liquor. The state government has also banned the sale of 'lali gur' or red molasses used in the production of the liquor, an official said.

Altogether, 22 people have been arrested in connection with the incident from the two districts, police said. Several organisations, including the Asam Chah Mazdoor Union, took out a march in the tea belt of Golaghat on Monday to protest against the tragedy and burnt effigies of Suklabaidya and Tea Tribe Welfare Minister Pallab Lochan Das.

A large number of labourers of two tea estates of Golaghat and Jorhat districts had fallen ill after drinking spurious liquor on Thursday night.

Twelve of them had died the same night. At Jorhat Medical College Hospital, at least 78 persons died while undergoing treatment and 20 of them were brought dead. Currently, over 250 people are being treated there, they said. In Golaghat, 55 people have died so far, while 57 are undergoing treatment at a civil hospital.

Meanwhile, condemning the incident, former chief minister Tarun Gogoi demanded a CBI inquiry into the episode, saying that "a tragedy of this magnitude has never taken place in Assam's history". 

"The state government should have claimed responsibility for the deaths and called for an all-party meeting to discuss the issue," he added.

Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal had ordered an inquiry into the incident by Upper Assam Division Commissioner Julie Sonowal on Friday.

The CM, along with Health Minister Himanta Sarma, has also reviewed the condition of victims undergoing treatment at the Jorhat hospital.

On Saturday, he announced a monetary compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the next of kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 to those who fell ill. This is the second major hooch tragedy in the country within a fortnight.

At least 70 people had died in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand after drinking spurious liquor earlier this month.

Story highlights

A large number of labourers of two tea estates of Golaghat and Jorhat districts had fallen ill after drinking spurious liquor.