Lack of vigilance scotched liquor tragedy

By Soumyajit Pattnaik

The liquor death toll has already climbed to 27 and may increase further. Poor families have again borne the brunt of the liquor tragedy and the sudden loss of sole earning members is likely to increase the economic hardships for the bereaved families. The administration has finally woken up to nail the guilty but the damage has already been done. Few arrests have been made, police have conducted raids and even top officials of some pharmaceutical companies have been put behind bars. The administration is pulling out all the stops to contain the damage, but it utterly failed to take prophylactic measures to avert the tragedy.

The liquor death toll has provided fresh ammunition to the Opposition and the Congress to hurl barbs at each other during this campaign season. Panchayat polls are only days away and some prominent Congress leaders have already demanded the resignation of the excise minister. Some ruling party MLAs, on the other hand, have passed the buck on to the Centre as the state’s new excise legislation is awaiting President’s assent for more than two years now.

In April 2006, the then Excise minister Kalindi Behera resigned owning moral responsibility for the Ganjam liquor tragedy which claimed nearly 40 lives.
Last month, the Opposition succeeded in its campaign to seek the removal of agriculture minister Pradip Maharathy over the alleged Pipli gangrape case. It remains to be seen whether the Opposition can do an encore by claiming the excise minister’s scalp!

In many parts of the state, women have taken to the streets to ventilate their ire against liquor sale. Armed with lathis and brooms, many intrepid women have attacked liquor shops, destroyed bottles in full media glare without bothering too much about the legal consequences. The new activism by women groups in many parts of the state offers concrete proof that the law enforcement agencies have failed to curb the liquor menace. Had the enforcement agencies taken timely action to tame illegal liquor trade, we would not have witnessed such vigilante behaviour by varied women groups at regular intervals.