Chandigarh: As many as 38 people have died in Punjab over the past three days, allegedly due to consumption of illicit liquor.
All the victims belonged to three border districts — Amritsar, Batala and Tarn Taran.
The police arrested seven bootleggers from the affected districts during 40 raids conducted throughout Friday. A woman accused of serving liquor was arrested from Amritsar Rural Thursday night.
Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh Friday ordered a magisterial inquiry into the suspicious deaths.
Sources in the police said that it was yet to be ascertained if the deaths, which took place over the past three days, were connected.
The death toll could rise further as the spurious liquor network was evidently spread across many areas, said a spokesperson of the police in a press statement, adding that questioning of the arrested accused was expected to lead to further arrests in the case.
Chronology of deaths
The police spokesperson said that the first five deaths were reported from Mucchal and Tangra villages in Amritsar Rural on the night of 29 July.
A day later, by the evening of 30 July, two more had died under suspicious circumstances in Muchhal, while one person, who was in a critical condition, died at Sri Guru Ramdas Hospital in Amritsar.
On Friday, two more deaths were reported from Mucchal, while another nine people died in Batala city. Another 19 deaths were reported from Tarn Taran Friday evening, said the police statement.
On Thursday night, police arrested Balwinder Kaur, a resident of Muchhal village under Section 304 (punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 61/1/14 of the Excise Act.
Based on the information given by Balwinder, police arrested one Mithu from Amritsar Rural Friday, while two others, identified as Darshan Rani and Rajan, were nabbed from Batala district, said police.
Four others, Kashmir Singh, Angrez Singh, Amarjit and Baljit, were arrested from Tarn Taran Friday. An FIR has been registered at Tarn Taran against these four accused. The police spokesperson said these accused have admitted to supplying spurious liquor in Norangabad village in Tarn Taran.
Mithu, who was arrested from Jasso Nangal village, has also admitted to supplying spurious liquor in villages of Amritsar Rural, said the spokesperson.
CM orders speedy inquiry
A spokesperson from the Chief Minister’s Office said in a statement that a magisterial probe will look into the facts and circumstances leading to the deaths, as well as into any other issue connected with the incidents.
The investigation will be conducted by the divisional commissioner Jalandhar, along with the joint excise and taxation commissioner Punjab, and superintendent of police (investigation) of the districts concerned.
CM Amarinder Singh also gave the Jalandhar divisional commissioner the liberty to co-opt any civil or police officer or any expert to facilitate a quick investigation. The CM also promised strict action against anyone found complicit in the case.
“We have directed the police to launch a search operation to crack down on any spurious liquor manufacturing units that may be operating in the state,” the CM said in the statement.
Opposition hits out
Meanwhile, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) lashed out at the government for its inability to control the production and trade of illicit liquor in the state. He demanded a judicial probe into the deaths.
In a video statement, senior party leader Dr Daljit Singh Cheema said the reason that such illicit liquor factories were mushrooming in Punjab was due to inaction by the state police.
He said the government had not taken any major action against similar factories unearthed in Khanna and Rajpura.
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