Assam: Post Hooch Tragedy, Chief Minister Bans Molasses To Stop Alcohol Poisoning
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on March 4, 2019 (Monday) ordered a ban on molasses in the state, reported The Indian Express. This decision comes after the Hooch tragedy that claimed 150 lives, which predominantly affected tea garden workers.
The decision was taken post a high-level meeting as a stern step to curb the menace caused by illicit liquor resulting in the loss of precious lives including women in the Jorhat and Golaghat districts. Sonowal asked Chief Secretary Alok Kumar to put a complete ban on sale and stocking of molasses in the state.
“The ban has been necessitated as molasses are used widely to prepare sulai, an intoxicating drink. He also asked Chief Secretary to direct all Deputy Commissioners to ensure a ban on molasses in all the districts,” the statement said.
Sonowal has also asked the Chief Secretary to direct the Deputy Commissioners to “generate awareness in all tea gardens and their periphery areas by conducting awareness meetings so that people can be made aware of the evils of consuming sulai.”
Several senior officials including the Tea Tribes Welfare Minister Pallab Lochan Das and Chief Minister’s Legal Advisor Santanu Bharali attended the meeting.
A government press statement also said that it would extend help to all the children who lost their parent or parents in the tragedy under the Juvenile Justice Act. The Indian Express had earlier reported that at least 37 children were orphaned due to the tragedy.
Assam Hooch tragedy has claimed 150 lives, with several hospitalized in a precarious condition due to consumption of spurious hooch on February 21 this year. The Chief Minister had earlier announced an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh to the victim’s family and Rs 50,000 to the people undergoing treatment.
However, police officials investigating the incident, in addition to verbal communication by the forensic scientists, stated that the contaminant could be methanol. This raises a possibility that the liquor causing the tragedy might not be traditionally- prepared “sulai” but as police say, “a mixture of spirit and water. The tea garden executives and state bureaucrats dodge the situation on the ground of “lack of awareness” but the on-ground stories tell a different truth. There is a nexus between illicit hooch sellers and distributors’. The garden workers and officials point towards the lack of concern, passivity in approach and corruption in the administration.
For instance, molasses stood completely unregulated until the tragedy turned to an outrage demanding immediate strict actions. On the other hand, it is being said that banning the molasses is not enough; since the distillation of molasses is a “long-drawn process”, the hooch sellers mix just water and spirit to save time and cut the cost or could be using a foreign substance to speed up the fermentation process.
As per the “preliminary reports” methanol has been found as the contaminant which is an industrial product and the availability of a highly –controlled substance with the commoners certainly irks with a question of negligence of the state machinery.
Last week the Assam police arrested one Abdul Kasim, who sold 70 litres of methanol at around Rs 105/litre.