Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Wednesday said he will not tolerate any political interference in the hooch tragedy case, and directed the DGP to book those directly involved for murder under section 302 of IPC.Promising justice for the victims of the case, which he termed as the biggest tragedy of recent times, the Chief Minister also mooted enhancement of punishment for spurious/illicit liquor manufacturing and smuggling under the Excise Act, to ensure that repeat offenders remain behind the bars and are not able to come out easily to indulge again in the crime.As several ministers agreed, during a Cabinet meet, to the suggestion of Advocate General Atul Nanda that a strict law like PCOCA was needed to combat organised crime like illicit liquor smuggling, the Chief Minister asked the Sub-Committee, that was set up under Brahm Mohindra to examine the provisions of the proposed law, to finalise and submit its report at the earliest. He agreed with Sukhjinder Randhawa and other ministers that PCOCA (Punjab Control of Organised Crime Act) could help control hardcore criminals and act as deterrent to gangsters, who continue to deal in organised crime even from prison, and had close connections with terrorists too, said the minister.The Chief Minister’s directives on the hooch tragedy came during two separate video conferences – one of the cabinet meeting and the other a review meeting of the case with top police and administrative officials.
Captain Amarinder also led his council of ministers in observing a 2-minute silence as a mark of homage to the victims of the tragedy.“Finish off this business, clean up the border areas,” was Captain Amarinder’s strict directive to police and district officials during the review VC earlier, which was attended by DGP Dinkar Gupta and Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan, along with SSPs and DCs of the affected districts of Tarn Taran, Amritsar Rural and Gurdaspur, along with officials of the Excise & Taxation Department.“This has to stop,” he said, adding that the illicit liquor business had been going on in border areas for a long time, with use of Lahan, but now it had assumed an even more dangerous proportions with the new trend of smuggling from neighbouring states.Asserting that he wanted “to see an end to this whole business of spurious and illicit/smuggled liquor,” the Chief Minister directed the concerned officials to be extremely strict in dealing with the criminals, whether men or women. Reiterating his government’s zero tolerance policy to illicit/spurious liquor and drugs, he asked the police to coordinate closely with the Excise and other concerned departments to wipe this menace out of Punjab once and for all.Pointing out that the victims were the poorest of the poor, Captain Amarinder set a 10-day deadline for the concerned DCs and police officers to identify and process cases to provide targeted additional relief for their families.
The Chief Minister has already announced Rs 2 lakh ex-gratia compensation to the families of each of the victims of the tragedy, in which the death toll currently stands at 113, with several more under treatment, which is being provided free in hospitals.DC Tarn Taran, Kulwant Singh, said his district had reported 84 deaths, with 13 people under treatment. Of these 13, 6 had been referred to Amritsar for eye treatment, while one was critical, he said. On the relief measures, the DC said disbursement of the Rs 2 lakh ex-gratia compensation announced by the Chief Minister for the families of the deceased would be disbursed tomorrow as verification had been completed and processing would be done in the next 24 hours. The Child Welfare Committee, along with NGOs, had been roped in to counsel the children of the affected families, including two siblings who had lost both their parents, said the DC. Children of employable age will be assisted for self-employment while widows will be given stitching machines and other assistance to earn their livelihood.DC Amritsar, Gurpreet Khaira, said 15 deaths had been reported in his district, where all efforts were being made to provide immediate relief to the families.DC Gurdaspur, Mohd Ishfaq, said ration kits had been provided to the affected people and a drive had been launched to create awareness about consumption of liquor, with instructions to destroy any illicit liquor lying with them.IG Border Range, SPS Parmar, in a brief presentation, said cases had been registered under Section 304 IPC and the Excise Act, and a coordinated crackdown had been launched in all the border areas to identify and nab the criminals and initiate strict action against them under the law. He revealed that initially, the families of the victims in Tarn Taran, which had suffered the maximum loss of lives, hid the deaths and cremated the bodies without post-mortem. He suggested introduction of colour coding for ethanol and other spirits to check illegal sale/distribution of such products.