More than 30 people have lost their lives in Bihar after consuming illicit liquor from the time prohibition was imposed in the state on 5 April. However, the Nitish Kumar government has been in denial mode, refusing to acknowledge these as liquor-related deaths. The latest tragedy in Gopalganj, killing 18 people has shed light on the extent of the problem.

Sources say that before Gopalganj, there have been at least four such cases since April, killing 13 people. At least two people died in the Barun police station of Aurangabad on 26 April. A day after, three persons died after consuming illicit liquor in the Rakabganj area of Patna. However, the administration failed to take note of the deaths. On 2 August, as many as four people died in a similar incident in Khagaria. Four more died in another hooch tragedy in the Matiaria Dhangartoli area of Bettiah district on 13 August. But the Bihar government refused to even admit that the deaths were caused by the consumption of toxic liquor.

“Even in this latest Gopalganj incident, the government was not ready to admit that it was a case of illicit liquor. It was only after three days of the incident that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is saying Gopalganj could be a case of illicit liquor, that too after family members of the victims as well as journalists investigated the matter and found evidence of liquor consumption,” said a source.

As many as 25 policemen have been suspended and six people have been arrested in the Gopalganj incident. An FIR has been lodged against 14 people in this regard.

Senior BJP leader and former Union minister Shahnawaz Hussain said total prohibition could not be implemented unless there was rule of law in the state. “Imposing prohibition is not sufficient unless it is implemented in letter and spirit. The Nitish Kumar government has failed to check the business of illicit liquor in the state,” said Shahnawaz Hussain. Questioning the “intention” of the Nitish government, Hussain said that instead of investigating the Gopalganj incident thoroughly, the Bihar government was busy covering it up. “The government should take responsibility and explain how illicit liquor is being supplied when there is total prohibition in the state,” he added.

At present, Bihar has 16 fully functioning distilleries and two breweries. Estimates are that more than 6 lakh litres of liquor and 2 lakh litres of beer are being manufactured by these plants, every month. All this is sold to other states. Though Bihar has prohibition, the state government is planning to renew the licences of these plants.

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