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Assam hooch deaths: Toll climbs to over 100

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 )

WION Web Team New Delhi, Delhi, India Feb 24, 2019, 09.08 AM (IST)

The death toll in the Assam hooch tragedy has climbed to over a 100, with news reports Sunday saying the toll could be anywhere between 102 and 114. 

The deaths first began to be reported Thursday night from two gardens in Assam's Golaghat and Jorhat districts. Twelve tea garden workers died Thursday night itself, with the toll steadily climbing since then. 

A number of tea garden workers brew liqour themselves, mixing additives in to make it stronger. The liqour is then often sold. 

Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Saturday met victims at the Jorhat Medical College Hospital (JMCH) and announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs two lakh to the next of kin of each of the deceased and Rs 50,000 to those who had fallen ill.

Sonowal said the guilty would not not be spared, even as the opposition Congress accused the BJP government in Assam of not taking adequate steps to stop the sale of illicit liquor and demanded the resignation of the state excise minister

Police said twelve persons have been detained in Golaghat for interrogation. Two persons were arrested in connection with the tragedy on Friday.

Sonowal had on Friday ordered an inquiry into the tragedy by Upper Assam Division Commissioner Julie Sonowal. The chief minsister has asked for the report to be submitted within a month.

Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who also visited JMCH, said Saturday that the "death toll and the number of people admitted is changing minute to minute".

Asked if spurious liquor is still being sold in view of fresh cases being reported, Sarma said, 
"Patients who had developed complications two-three days ago are coming now. Some who had consumed liquor earlier are coming for treatment after hearing the news of the hooch tragedy out of fear. These people are psychologically in shock and so they think they are ill."

Doctors from Assam Medical College Hospital of Dibrugarh district, Gauhati Medical College 
Hospital and Tezpur Medical College Hospital in Sonitpur district were rushed to the Jorhat and Golaghat hospitals to provide medical care to the large number of affected people, he said.

Besides, the director of medical education Anup Barman, directors of Health, Assam and the National Rural Health Mission will be stationed in Jorhat to supervise and co-ordinate the services being provided to the patients, the minister said.

"The prime consideration now is how to give best medical treatment to the affected," Sarma said.

Considering the situation in Jorhat vis a vis the hooch tragedy, hospital authorities have been asked to restrict the number of patients admitted with other complaints so that maximum number of those who were taken ill after drinking spurious liquor can be accommodated there.

Hospital authorities have also been instructed to provide food for the attendants of the hooch victims, besides the mandatory health care facilities and medicines.

Assam Director General of Police Kuladhar Saikia said 12 persons have been detained in Golaghat for interrogation.

Senior Congress leader and former chief minister Tarun Gogoi has demanded a judicial inquiry into the incident and accused the BJP government in the Assam of not taking adequate steps to stop the sale of illicit liquor.

Congress members also staged a protest in Golaghat and demanded the resignation of Excise Minister Parimal Suklabaidya.

Activists of the state's leading student and youth organsiation Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad burnt an effigy of the excise minister at Golaghat and demanded his resignation. 

This is the second major hooch tragedy in the country within a fortnight. Earlier, at least 70 people had died in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand after drinking spurious liquor. 

(With inputs from PTI)