Nitish Kumar makes U-turn on hooch tragedies, announces ex-gratia for victims’ families since 2016
PATNA: Making a U-turn on paying compensation to the victims of hooch tragedies in dry Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Monday announced conditional payment of an ex gratia of Rs 4 lakh each to the next of kin of those who died after drinking spurious liquor since 2016 when the prohibition policy was launched.
The total number of deaths due to spurious alcohol in these seven-odd years is not immediately known, though the opposition BJP claimed it must be in hundreds.
The chief minister’s statement came on a day when the death toll at Motihari in East Champaran district rose to 26, with four more people losing their lives after consuming illicit liquor.
He announced that the ex gratia would be paid to the next of kin of each person who died in different hooch incidents in the state since 2016, if the families follow certain conditions.
“We have decided to provide ex gratia of Rs 4 lakh each to the next of kin of the deceased. But, the amount will only be given if their family members say in writing to the district magistrate concerned that the death took place after consuming illicit liquor. They will have to disclose the source from where the alcohol was procured, too,” Kumar told reporters.
He also said the family members will have to declare that they would encourage people to quit drinking liquor and support the prohibition law of the state government.
This is a reversal of his earlier stand that the family members of those who died after drinking hooch would be paid no compensation by his government.
After 26 people died in a hooch tragedy in December 2022, the chief minister had said “Jo piyega woh marega” (those who drink spurious alcohol will die), drawing flak from opposition parties and various other quarters.
However, Kumar changed his stance this time saying: “I am deeply pained at what happened in Motihari… I know that the majority of people who die in such incidents belong to the economically weaker sections… Despite our best attempts, hooch incidents are taking place in the state and people are dying after consuming spurious liquor.” Kumar has said on various occasions that prohibition was not his personal wish but a response to the cries of the women of the state.
The compensation amount will be provided from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund, Kumar added.
On the U-turn of Kumar, state BJP president Samrat Choudhary claimed this has happened because of the agitation launched by the saffron party after the Saran hooch tragedy that claimed “more than 80 lives”.
“The inhuman and insensitive Nitish Kumar has bowed to the demand of the BJP. His ‘Jo Piyega, Woh Marega’ statement was inhuman,” he told PTI.
Leader of Opposition in the Bihar assembly, Vijay Kumar Sinha, claimed that the state government has been fudging the figure of hooch deaths ever since the prohibition law came into force.
“They must release the figure of total deaths since 2016….We are quite sure that the number of hooch deaths must be in hundreds,” Sinha, also a BJP leader, said.
After the Saran hooch incident of 2022, Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav gave a statement asserting that central government data showed that states ruled by the saffron party had the worst track records in terms of spurious liquor deaths.
Yadav had read out a statement given on the floor of Parliament by Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai, who hails from Bihar, on July 19, 2022.
Rai quoted NCRB data to say that between 2016 and 2020, Madhya Pradesh accounted for the highest number of 1,214 hooch deaths followed by Karnataka (909).
“Another BJP-ruled state, Haryana, stood at number four. Even in Gujarat, a dry state from where the Prime Minister hails, the number of hooch deaths during the period was 50 while for Bihar it was only 21”, Yadav had told reporters on December 15, 2022. The Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016, bans the manufacture, trade, storage, transportation, sale, and consumption of liquor in the state.
Source: Press Trust of India