Poisonous liquor has claimed the lives of 34 persons in Cuttack and Khorda districts recently. This is the official figure. The death toll is being feared much higher. It is quite unfortunate that the State government has failed to discharge its constitutional responsibility of regulating the liquor trade in the State. The victims who are struggling for life in different hospitals are the common men.
Soon after the incident, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik dramatically sacked his school friend Excise Minister AU Singh Deo. This is not unusual in Naveen’s politics. Every time the killer brew wreaks havoc in the State, Naveen follows a repulsive, if not a sinister, pattern—“compensations have been assured and judicial probe has been announced”.
What took the lives of the people? Was it contaminated liquor-lethal brew with methyl mix or medicine laced with alcohol? Still there is conflicting opinions which put the responsibility on Excise Department and the Health Department, equally.
This tragic incident is the third big one in the line i.e. the liquor tragedy happened in 1992 and in 2006. In the meantime, the government took actions which are only confined within a few removals, some transfers including the transfer of Excise Commissioner, suspensions and sporadic arrests followed by raids. But the question is how and for what reasons poisonous spirits were used in the liquor which caused the death of innocent consumers.
The answer is said the shortage of country spirit (CS) in the State, and CM’s callousness to improve the situation. As per requirement, out of 100 per cent country spirit, only 30-40 per cent is produced in the State, in Aska Sugar Mills, a State owned establishment. The government could not meet the shortage quantity. In such an alarming situation, there is every possibility of consumption of the contaminated and poisonous sprit. The Excise Directorate repeatedly suggested the government to meet the shortage quantity of country spirit. Former Excise Ministers also brought this to the notice of CM Naveen Patnaik for prompt actions. But each time, Naveen turned down the proposals.
In August and November, 2008, the proposals were placed twice before the Chief Minister for approval. But Naveen in both the cases did not approve the proposals and retuned the file. On July 7, 2009 another proposal was sent to the Chief Minister for approval so that the government could import required country spirit in order to meet the shortage. But the Chief Minister did not agreed to the proposal. In June 2011, another similar proposal was sent to Naveen, but that too was nixed by him for unknown reasons. Then the question arises why Naveen Patnaik did not approve the Excise Department’s series of proposals for import of country spirit to meet the shortage of the same in the State? This was a matter of government revenue, why the Chief Minister turned down the proposals?
Sources say the Chief Minister was under pressure, not to approve the Excise proposals. “What was the pressure? Was it Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, the super chief minister or any liquor mafia who got that done by Naveen?” asks Ashok Sahu, the State vice president of BJP. Shri Sahu said the Chief Minister is mainly responsible for the liquor tragedy. “Excise and Health Ministers are undoubtedly responsible but the buck stops with Naveen Patnaik who did not pay any heed towards the urgent proposals of excise department,” he added.
(By Debasis Tripathy)