The Nitish Kumar government in Bihar on Saturday drew flak, from adversaries as well as allies, over its adamant refusal to give compensation to family members of those who have died in the Saran hooch tragedy.
The administration has confirmed only 30 deaths since Tuesday night, following suspected consumption of spurious liquor, making it the biggest hooch tragedy in the state since it went dry over six years ago.
However, the opposition BJP has claimed, inside the state assembly as well as in a memorandum submitted to Governor Phagu Chauhan that the number of deaths was “more than 100”, a view echoed by Chirag Paswan, an NDA sympathizer and strident critic of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
“I visited Saran today to meet the bereaved family members and was appalled to learn that the administration was putting pressure on them not to report deaths caused by hooch or attribute these to other causes so that the magnitude of the tragedy is downplayed. I am told that the number of those who have died may be even as high as 200”, Paswan told PTI-Bhasha over phone.
The Jamui MP also questioned the obstinacy of the CM over paying ex-gratia to the bereaved family members, pointing out “why is he adopting double standards? The adjoining district of Gopalganj was struck by a hooch tragedy in 2016, shortly after the prohibition law had come into force. He compensated the victims then”.
Notably, the longest serving CM has been adopting a righteous stance on the issue of compensation, asserting that the ban on liquor was based on Gandhian principles which those who have consumed hooch had violated and hence they deserved no compensation for the “ganda kaam” (abominable act).
Senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi, a former Deputy CM and once trusted lieutenant of Kumar, also visited Saran separately and echoed similar views on compensating the victims.
“The CM had compensated the victims of Gopalganj in 2016 despite prohibition. Now he says that the liquor ban will be affected by compensating Saran victims. This shows that he is capable of taking a U-turn in every matter”, said the BJP leader, whose party lost power in August this year as a result of Kumar’s volte face.
Both Paswan and Modi were also livid over Kumar’s repeated refrain “piyoge to maroge” (if you drink, you shall be doomed to die) which they described as “highly insensitive”.
Political strategist turned activist Prashant Kishor, a former close aide of the Bihar CM, said the remark “piyoge to maroge” made him “regret having worked for Nitish Kumar, a man who was once conscientious enough to have resigned as Railway Minister in the wake of a train accident”.
The CPI(ML)-Liberation, which supports the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ government from outside, called for “not just compensation but rehabilitation (punarvaas) of families” which may have been in dired straits upon the death of a breadwinner in the hooch tragedy.
In a statement, the ultra-Left party said it will also hit the streets on Monday in protest against the “nexus between liquor mafia and the administrative machinery across the state” which they blamed for the Saran hooch tragedy.
The party said it had sent a three-member delegation, comprising sitting and former MLAs, to Saran on Friday to take stock of the situation.
“Most of the deceased belong to very poor families, though they may be from various castes. The hooch tragedy has destroyed many homes. Its impact has now reached the adjoining district of Siwan”, the statement said.
Notably, the administration in Siwan has confirmed six deaths, caused by suspected consumption of spurious liquor in parts of the district adjoining Saran.
“The government must show sensitivity and agree to not just pay an ex-gratia but take the responsibility of treatment of those who have fallen ill after consuming liquor and education of the children of those who have died. It must also set up, down at block level, de-addiction centres so that the scourge of alcoholism may be nipped in the bud”, it added.
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