Gujarat Hooch Tragedy: Death Toll Crosses 145, Shattering the Myth of Good Governance in the State, Spread by Right Wingers

-Rajesh Tyagi/ 17 July 2009

The rampant manufacture and distribution of illicit liquor in Gujarat, has once again come to light in the wake of a big human tragedy on July 7, 2009, in the industrial city of Ahmedabad, crossing today the mark of toll upon more than 145 lives, of the victims who had unfortunately consumed it.

Gujarat is the State which has imposed total ban on liquor, through a cynical policy of prohibition, which dates back to 1961, as homage to Gandhi, who had born in the state.

The revenue loss to the Gujarat government because of the ban is estimated at around Rs.30 Billion a year. However, those in power in the state, seek the leverage in the ban to generate huge amounts through wanton breach of the prohibition, through under-table deals with liquor mafia in the state.

The police and through it the high-ups in power, make a huge business, firstly out of the sale of branded liquor imported from outside state and secondly from the spurious liquor manufactured and sold inside the State, on a very large scale. While the branded liquor which is comparatively very costly, is consumed by the rich, the country-made remains for widespread consumption of local poor.

Methanol, an industrial solvent and a poisonous substance, is generally added to the spurious liquor to make it more toxic and strong, in which various manufacturers compete with each other. In this race, the proportions of Methanol sometimes cross the safety bar meant for human consumption. Needless to mention, that all of this black business goes under protection of the Government machine itself.

After the toll in hooch tragedy crossed 140, the government of right wing BJP in Gujarat, led by Narendra Modi, badly exposed for rampant corruption and for patronage to illicit trades in the state, has started the damage control exercise, with an eyewash through numerous arrests and proposed amendment in the state excise law providing for ‘death penalty’ for those involved in the trade.

Notably, the Narendra Modi Government has come under severe criticism after the death of nearly 140 people in the hooch tragedy. The right wingers, who drumbeat for good governance in Gujarat, to deceive the people, are keeping silence.

In the wake of hooch tragedy, exposing the failure and collusion of the government with perpetrators of the crime, to escape the wrath of the people, in a massive crackdown, the police conducted more than 8000 raids in the state, and booked 6713 people, including many women, for allegedly ‘violating’ prohibition.

Gujarat’s Home Minister Amit Shah said, “the State Government would introduce Bombay Prohibition (Gujarat Amendment) Bill 2009, in the Assembly on July 28”. However, later the Govt decided to introduce it immediately.

Though, Gujarat is not the only state to have such tragedies at hand. The big tragedy has come on the heels of yet another tragedy of almost similar magnitude, which encompassed two states of Tamilnadu and Karnataka in May 2008, claiming more than 170 lives. However, the prohibition and the stringent laws to enforce it, add to the woes of the people, making the procurement of consumable and safe liquor more difficult and much costly in Gujarat, resulting in boost to tribute of police. The more the laws are made stringent, the more the tribute of police increases. The consumption though continues on ever increasing scale.

“We have taken a historical step to introduce a Bill in the current Assembly session to amend the Prohibition Law making it 'very stringent' to control illicit liquor tragedy," boasted a top government official.

Given the track record of Gujarat government, it can be well anticipated that the stringent laws like the one may have only two consequence- the false implication of minority communities and sky-rocketing in the share of police in the illicit manufacture and trade. The Bill in this regard, with proposed amendments in the existing Excise law in the state, has already been introduced in the Legislative Assembly, and has all prospects for its passing by the state legislature.

The proposed amendments seek penal action upto 'death penalty' for those convicted in manufacture of spurious liquor cases, while punishment upto life imprisonment for bootleggers.

The other proposals seek punishment of upto 10 years for the makers of illicit liquor, persons responsible for its transportation, those who stock such liquor and those involved in its sale. In no case, the punishment would be less than seven years.

Notable is that the proposed amendments in the law, provide a very light punishment for the police and other officials concerned, i.e. a maximum of upto one year, who permit the trade to flourish in their jurisdictions.
“The amendment would include stringent action against those who indulge in manufacturing, constructing, selling, buying, and keeping, transporting etc of such spurious liquor”, claimed the Home Minister of Gujarat, Amit Shah.

It is notable that the provisions in the state excise law are already very stringent. It is amazing that the same government under whose nose and patronage such a widespread business in manufacture and trade of liquor had gone for decades, is proposing more punitive provisions in the law and more powers to arm the very same officials who had given patronage to the business. The real intention behind the move is very clear and that is to arm the law enforcers with drastically punitive powers, enabling them to extract more money in the business, for the bosses sitting in bureaucracy and political offices.

The seriousness of the Gujarat Government under Narendra Modi, can be judged by the fact that it had consciously and in a very calculated way, dismantled the State Prohibition Department in 2006, which was formed in 1996, to counter the liquor mafia, on the bogus pretext of shortage of police personnel. It is notable that Gujarat is one of the States which have highest per capita presence of police. During the tenure of the department there were no incidents of alcohol poisoning in Gujarat. Since its dismantling by the government, obviously under the pressure of liquor mafia, Gujarat has since witnessed several occasions of alcohol poisoning, claiming the lives of more than 400 people in the state.

Prohibition or no-prohibition, the worst sufferers in the game are the poor and working people, while the officials and political bosses remain the all time beneficiary, mincing money out of the illicit business in billions. Unable to afford the costly liquor, they resort to the cheap, local made stuff and then pay for it through their life. Prohibition, the moral hypocrisy of the ruling capitalists, burdens the poor with a double yoke.

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