Aligarh: Fifteen people died on Friday and at least 16 more took ill after allegedly consuming spurious liquor sold by a licensed vendor in Uttar Pradesh’s Aligarh, a senior official said.
The authorities have ordered a magisterial probe into the incident and suspended five excise officials while four people, including the liquor vend owner, have been arrested.
The inquiry will be conducted by an additional district magistrate-rank officer, District Magistrate (DM) Chandra Bhushan Singh told reporters.
The administration is likely to invoke the stringent National Security Act (NSA) against those found guilty, he said.
Additional District Magistrate (Finance) Vidhan Jaiswal told reporters that the victims are residents of villages under Lodha, Khair and Jawan police stations.
“While 15 people have died, 16 are being treated in different hospitals,” he said.
The district magistrate has announced Rs 5 lakh as compensation to the families of those who died.
Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Dipak Kumar said the Lodha police station was informed in the morning about the death of two people after consuming country-made liquor bought from a vendor.
The victims were truck drivers who had gathered at a gas depot on the Aligarh-Tapaal highway for work, he said.
However, when the police and senior district officials reached the spot, they were told that six more people had died, the DIG said, adding that the bodies were sent for an autopsy.
Some of those who have taken ill were rushed to the district hospital, from where they were shifted to Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College Hospital at Aligarh Muslim University.
The liquor shop has been sealed and samples have been collected for testing. Four people, including the owner of the liquor vend at Andla, have been arrested, police said.
Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Kalanidhi Naithani said six police teams are combing villages to trace victims and help people get medical assistance.
“Among those arrested included an associate of the owner and two of his sales assistants. They are being interrogated,” the SSP said.
Additional Chief Secretary (Excise) Sanjay Bhoosreddy said District Excise Officer Dheeraj Sharma, Excise Inspectors Rajesh Kumar Yadav and Chandraprakash Yadav, head constable Ashok Kumar, and constable Ram Raj Rana have been suspended with immediate effect.
Departmental action has also been initiated against them, he added.
According to locals, people had started falling sick on Thursday. Many others from neighbouring villages had also consumed the liquor, they added.
Apart from those who died, a large number of people were taken ill after consuming spurious liquor since Thursday afternoon, village head Om Dutt said.
He alleged that widespread reports suggested a racket behind spurious liquor.
The vice-president of the Youth Congress in UP, Gorang Dev Chauhan, demanded that all liquor vends in the state be closed.
Mr Chauhan in a statement said it is ironic that while shops and other vital commercial establishments remain closed during the coronavirus lockdown, liquor vends have been exempted.
He said the tragic incident has been caused by the “flawed priorities” of the state government and demanded a high-level probe into the “racket” of spurious liquor.