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Rise In Cases Of Hooch Deaths In Jharkhand

The liquor shops that are run by the Government as per its recent decision are alleged to be managed by the liquor mafia from Bihar in connivance with officials of the department concerned in Jharkhand

The BJP-led Raghubar Das dispensation in Jharkhand is in a fix on how to deal with the escalating toll of hooch deaths in the State. Since the people died of consuming illicit liquor from Government shops, the issue can neither be ignored nor can it be probed by an independent agency for fear of suffering a possible loss of face in the backdrop of the dubious role played by authorities concerned – ostensibly for fat gains.

The liquor shops that are run by the Government as per its recent decision are alleged to be managed by the liquor mafia from Bihar in connivance with officials of the department concerned in Jharkhand. Although the Jharkhand Government had decided to run the liquor shops – replacing the existing practice of allotting shops through auctions – to check ill-practices and ensure optimum revenue, officials in the State are alleged to have conspired to outsource the management of shops thereby falling prey to unscrupulous acts. The tainted officials are alleged to have received kickbacks for outsourcing the shops to private parties.

Consequently, touts swung into action to hire liquor mafias from Bihar that became a dry State after a blanket ban on liquor. Since liquor dealers were rendered jobless in Bihar, they had no reason to refuse even unrealistic dictates from officials in lieu of awarding contracts for managing liquor shops in Jharkhand. These liquor dealers are said to have ruled the roost in Bihar while enjoying political patronage under the erstwhile successive governments of the Rashtriya Janta Dal and the Janta Dal United as well.

However, in a startling development, the Nitish Kumar Government in Bihar passed a prohibitory order on April 5, 2016 against consumption and sale of liquor in the State and directed the liquor companies and dealers to sell their old stocks in other States within a stipulated period of time: till April 30.         Consequently, liquor companies took recourse to the Supreme Court seeking an extension of the deadline. Acting upon the appeal, the apex court granted time till July 31 to dispense with their old stock. The liquor companies had appealed to the apex court for an extension of the deadline to shift their old stock to other States. In their prayer before the SC, they contended that they had to suffer huge financial losses and that they should be granted further time to do away with their old stocks.

The Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies had pointed out that they had liquor stock worth over Rs 200 crore and hence had sought the apex court’s permission to dispose it in other states where consumption of liquor was not banned.

The Nitish Kumar Government’s decision to ban liquor had, however, collateral impact on the economy and politics of Bihar. If the historic decision has been detrimental to the State exchequer that presumably suffered a revenue loss to the tune of about Rs 3500/- crore during the last fiscal, it marginalised the political clout of liquor-dealers syndicate that happened to be the major funding source for Nitish Kumar’s political adversaries within the then coalition fold. These liquor dealers are said to have had proximity to the RJD that was the coalition partner of the erstwhile JDU-RJD-Congress dispensation in the State.

If sources privy to powers-that-be in both Bihar and Jharkhand are to be believed, the Jharkhand Government’s decision to run liquor shops turned out to be spin-off benefit for the liquor mafia and the RJD leaders nexus. They claimed that the racket of selling illicit liquor in Jharkhand in league with senior officials was operated at the behest of one of the top leaders of RJD from Bihar. Working in tandem with the leader from Bihar, officials in Jharkhand claimed to have kept the Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Raghubar Das, in the dark too to outsource liquor shops. Sources claimed that a part payment of the kickbacks was made to a few senior officials of the Jharkhand Government in the last week of August in Kolkata.

Meanwhile, cashing-in on the situation, non-BJP political parties – barring RJD – called a Ranchi bandh on September 9 to press for their demand for a thorough investigation into the matter by an independent agency. Opposition parties claimed that the Government was beating around the bush to cover up the dubious role played by Government officials by initiating action against junior officials and staff of the department concerned and conducting search operations in the garb of nabbing liquor dealers. They contended that if the Government decided to sell alcohol from its own shops, it could not claim immunity from the charges of involvement of officials concerned in the racket.

To top it all, even as the criminal conspiracy behind the hooch tragedy, that has so far claimed 25 lives including a President Award recipient cop of the Jharkhand Armed Police, Vikram Rai, amounts to a virtual political intrigue by pro-RJD forces and does not augur well for the BJP-led Raghubar Das Government in Jharkhand, the dubious modus operandi of senior officials remained unnoticed. The Chief Minister is supposed to be unencumbered by the conspiracy being hatched by pro-RJD forces and preferred to feign ignorance- for reasons best known to him only- about the antecedents of top officials concerned who have close proximity to the RJD leadership and are accused of graft cases and have faced even CBI probes time and again.

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