Gujarat hooch tragedy: Death toll mounts to 31, state govt forms fact-finding team

DGP Ashish Bhatia claimed that many of them were given industrial alcohol mixed with water.

Darshan DesaiUpdated: Tuesday, July 26, 2022, 10:19 PM IST
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Ahmedabad: Even as the death toll in Sunday’s Gujarat hooch tragedy climbed to at least 31 by Tuesday and some 60 were being treated at various hospitals, a panicked State Government constituted a fact-finding committee headed by an IGP besides a Special Investigation Team, while DGP Ashish Bhatia claimed that many of them were given industrial alcohol mixed with water.

The Opposition Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal mocked at the State Government’s claims and asserted that instead of admitting that illicit country liquor was being openly sold in this region in Saurashtra, the State Police head was trying to divert it by claiming that there was no liquor but water mixed with chemicals that was given to the villagers.

Instead of convening a press conference which he usually does at the drop of a hat at even a small police achievement, Gujarat’s Minister of State for Home Harsh Sanghvi simply issued a statement that the government had appointed a fact-finding team to go into the tragedy.

He stated, "Subhash Trivedi, IGP (CID-Crime) will head the committee, while other members are IAS Nikhil Gandhi and Director of Gujarat Forensic Science Laboratory HP Sanghvi. The committee will submit its report within three days to the government."

A press conference that Sanghavi was to initially address was passed on to Director-General of Police Ashish Bhatia, who gave details leading to the tragedy and also that water laced with chemicals was fed to the victims.

According to him, until Tuesday afternoon, 28 persons have died after drinking illicit liquor in Ahmedabad rural and Botad districts. Out of the 28 deaths, “two are suspicious”, meaning the reasons could be something else. However, sources at the Bhavnagar Civil Hospital, which currently is treating 47 people, said the number of deaths “is not less than 31 and could even increase.” Fourteen others were admitted to Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, even as the highway between Ahmedabad and Bhavnagar echoed with ambulance sirens.

DGP Ashish Bhatia said, “The kingpin in the hooch tragedy is one Jayesh Khavadia, who is working with AMOS company as supervisor. The company deals in industrial alcohol (methyl alcohol) and repacks the industrial alcohol from 100-litre barrels to 2.5-litre bottles and supplies the stock to a factory in Changodar."

"While this was being transported, Jayesh had pilfered 600 litres and sold them to his far related cousins Vinod and Sanjay Bhikhabhai, against the payment of Rs 40,000. Police have recovered unused 460 litres from the brothers," Bhatia said.

The DGP said one bootlegger Vipul, who had brought the alcohol from Vinod, had also died after drinking illicit liquor, said the officer. He claimed it was suspected the victims were given industrial alcohol mixed with water.

People from six villages in Ahmedabad and Botad districts had consumed the illicit liquor in Rojid village in Barwala taluka (tehsil) in Botad, located on the border of both the districts.

According to the police chief, 22 persons from Botad district have died, six from Ahmedabad rural areas, while two deaths are suspicious. Bhatia informed that three FIRs have been lodged, one each in Barwala, Ranpura and Dhandhuka.

Meanwhile, instead of the Minister of State for Home Harsh Sanghavi, Education Minister Jitubhai Vaghani and Health Minister Rushikesh Patel visited the victims and their families in the Bhavnagar hospital, ahead of a Congress delegation led by State president Jagdish Thakor and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal, who is incidentally on a Gujarat tour since Monday.

While Thakor demanded that the Minister of State for Home should resign owning moral responsibility for this tragedy, Kejriwal asserted that the State Government was squarely to be blamed for this and both expressed their surprise that the police were still denying that it was illicit liquor and that methyl alcohol was being mixed with water.

Congress spokesperson Manhar Patel, who belongs to Botad, told Fress Press Journal that the Gujarat Government was trying to cover up the tragedy by conveying that it was not liquor but it was water clandestinely laced with chemicals, which caused the deaths. “This is the height of shamelessness,” he asserted.

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