After Bihar's hooch tragedy toll climbed to 39, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Thursday warned that if people drink spurious liquor, they will die.
The chief minister's blunt comments came as his policy of prohibition came under attack from many quarters including from his former political strategist turned activist Prashant Kishor, who demanded scrapping of the prohibition law.
"Jo piyega woh marega" (those who drink spurious alcohol will die), thundered Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as he stood his ground maintaining that prohibition was "not my personal wish but a response to the cries of the women of the state".
Kumar when he brought in prohibition had won praise from many women's groups who felt it would save their men-folk from the "curse of drunkenness and save homes from financial ruin." He also expressed displeasure over criticisms from the opposition BJP which has raised the issue "even inside Parliament".
Civil surgeon and medical officer in charge Dr Sagar Dulal Sinha who confirmed that the number of people dead from consuming the illicitly brewed liquor has increased on Wednesday, said deaths were being reported from those homes who had not reported hooch-related illness earlier out of fear of landing on the wrong side of the law.
While the opposition BJP continued to create a ruckus inside the assembly for the second consecutive day over the Saran hooch tragedy, the CPI(ML) Liberation which supports the "Mahagathbandhan" government staged a demonstration outside before the commencement of proceedings, demanding a "review" of draconian provisions of the prohibition law and monetary compensation to bereaved family members.
Kishor, a former confidant of the chief minister, demanded that the prohibition law be scrapped, terming it as a "stupid" step and suggested allowing "regulated" sale of alcohol besides sustained social awareness campaigns to dissuade people from consuming all types of intoxicants.
"Bihar has become a laughing stock because of prohibition. The law should be repealed forthwith. It is high time that all political parties, be it Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the BJP which shared power with him for years, and the RJD of Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav gave up their hypocrisy and took a decision without worrying about votes," Kishor fumed at a press conference in Sheohar district.
The IPAC founder is on a state-wide `pada-yatra' (journey by foot), after the conclusion of which his "Jan Suraaj Yatra" is expected to become a full-fledged political party.
"Nitish Kumar is wrongly invoking the name of Gandhi to defend his prohibition law. The Mahatma was never for imposing such things through a coercive law. He was a votary of a change in consciousness. In Bihar, we are witnessing a farce," he said.
Kumar, in the earlier part of his tenure, had allowed mushrooming of liquor shops. Later, he swung to the other extreme, Kishor said.
"The current law must be withdrawn at the earliest and a middle ground should be found. Those who drink inside their homes without creating a nuisance in public should not be penalised," he added.
However, in the state capital, on the sidelines of a function organised on the occasion of Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel's death anniversary, Kumar told reporters: "Prohibition has been of immense benefit to the society. I wonder how people are speaking against it".
"I am aghast at a link being drawn between hooch deaths and prohibition. People die upon consuming spurious liquor even in states where there is no ban on alcohol," claimed the septuagenarian.
However, CPI(ML)-L MLA Sandeep Saurabh, who staged a demonstration outside the Vidhan Sabha along with other party MLAs, said, "Despite best intentions, the prohibition law has led to unwarranted consequences. The poor are being hit the worst. Consumption of liquor has been made a criminal offence, a reason why family members of hooch victims do not get any ex-gratia. This has to change. The law must be reviewed." Anti-government slogans by BJP MLAs greeted the chief minister when he reached the assembly. The party, which has an axe to grind against the JD(U) leader, who abruptly snapped ties in August, tried to disrupt proceedings with many of its members entering the well, carrying placards and posters and raising slogans.
Speaker Awadh Bihari Chaudhary got posters and placards snatched away with the help of marshals and went ahead with the proceedings, unfazed by the relentless shouting of slogans by BJP MLAs.
The slogan-shouting continued till noon when BJP members staged a walkout alleging that the Speaker was "taking the side of the ruling dispensation".
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