59 dead in Tamil Nadu hooch tragedy

At least 59 people have died so far and another 156 persons have been hospitalised after consuming illicit liquor in Tamil Nadu’s Kallakurichi district. As per reports, illicit liquor called ‘packet arrack’ was consumed by these people.

The police said bootleggers were selling ‘packet arrack’ and they have been arrested on charges of selling illicit arrack. The Police also seized over 200 litres of ‘packet arrack’. Samples tested at a forensic laboratory in Villupuram were found to have the poisonous methanol. Several people from Kallakurichi and neighbouring areas had consumed illicit arrack sold by bootleggers at Karunapuram. On reaching home, most of them complained of giddiness, headache, vomiting, nausea, stomach pain and irritation in the eyes. They were admitted to hospitals in  Kallakurichi, Villupuram, Salem and Puducherry.

Meanwhile, the DMK government headed by Chief Minister, M.K.Stalin has shunted out the District Collector and suspended the Superintendent of Police. The government has ordered a probe by the CB-CID of Tamil Nadu police under the charge of Superintendent of Police Shantharam.  As per government reports,  seven people including a bootlegger by name K.Govindaraj alias Kannukutti, have been arrested.

The Tamil Nadu government has also announced a judicial inquiry headed by retired judge of Madras high court, Justice B Gokuldas. The National Human Rights Commission has issued notices to the Tamil Nadu Government and the Director General of Police seeking a full report on the tragedy.

Not satisfied with this, the AIADMK has demanded an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and its legislators in the Tamil Nadu Assembly have disturbed the proceedings in Assembly, leading to the Speaker suspending them for a day.  

The Madras High Court also had pulled up the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led Tamil Nadu government over the tragedy, citing similar incidents in Villupuram and Chengalpattu districts last year. The court demanded to know why such instances were repeatedly occurring in the state. A Division Bench of Justices D Krishnakumar and K Kumaresh Babu was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by the AIADMK legal wing secretary I S Inbadurai. In his petition, he sought a CBI probe.

The Chief minister MK Stalin who has held several meetings with officials has expressed pain and shock and has announced Rs. 10 lakh as ex gratia to the next of kin, while those hospitalised will receive Rs. 5000. The government will also take care of the educational expenses and hostel fees of the children until the age of 18 of those who have lost either one or both parents in the Kallakurichi hooch tragedy.

Court orders closure of two Tasmac outlets

Meanwhile, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court ordered the immediate closure of two Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (Tasmac) outlets on Boothipuram Road near Palanichettipatti. It directed the Theni collector to inquire into the allegation of authorities failing to control the illegal sale of liquor.

A division Bench of Justices R Suresh Kumar and G Arul Murugan, while hearing the PIL petition filed by U Aajik Arabukani from Palanichettipatti, directed the Tasmac manager and the Theni Superintendent of Police to assist the collector in the inquiry and file a report.

The court said that the documents and electronic evidence produced by the petitioner disclosed several irregularities in the functioning of Tasmac shop numbers 8576 and 8516. The court observed that a “cartel” arrangement seems to be going on between the supervisors, staff at the Tasmac shops, bar owners and others in the locality. In spite of filing 17 FIRs with the Palanichettipatti police, no effective action has been taken by Tasmac authorities or the police, which is the reason behind the agony of the residents, observed the court.

The court reprimanded the counsel, who appeared for the Tasmac district manager, one of the respondents in the case, for seeking more time to inquire into the matter. “It is not an isolated incident as it has been going on for the last few months. The first FIR had been registered on January 7, 2024, and 17 FIRs have been registered since then. The manager cannot make lame excuses.” Meanwhile, the state-run liquor retailer Tasmac said 500 retail shops selling alcoholic beverages will be closed down in Tamil Nadu, implementing a Government Order (GO) issued earlier for their closure. Out of the 5,329 retail liquor outlets across the state (as on March 31, 2023), 500 shops would be identified and closed down.

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