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Hooch tragedy rocks Assam assembly


Press Trust of India Guwahati
Noisy scenes prevailed in the Assam Legislative Assembly Monday with the Opposition demanding suspension of Question Hour to discuss the hooch tragedy that has claimed 157 lives so far.
After disallowing the adjournment notice initially,Speaker Hitendra Nath Goswami later extended Question Hour and the House discussed the incident at length during which the members took a resolve to unitedly fight against illicit liquor trade and sought exemplary punishment to those responsible for the tragedy that also saw another 331 taken ill in Golaghat and Jorhat districts.
At the beginning of the question hour, the main opposition Congress pressed for taking over its adjournment motion first suspending the scheduled proceedings of the house.
The speaker, however, disallowed the motion which led the Congress to stage a walk out after displaying placards and heated words exchanged between them and the Treasury bench MLAs and some ministers.
They rushed into the Well of the house holding placards against the government forcing the speaker to adjourn the house for half-an-hour after taking up just one question.
When the house reassembled, the speaker used his privilege to extend the Zero Hour and the house discussed for more than five hours the liquor tragedy issue.
The Congress legislators later returned to the house and participated in the discussion along with two ministers and MLAs from both the BJP-led ruling coalition and other Opposition parties.
Senior opposition AGP MLA Brindabon Goswami starting the discussion demanded that Assam be declared a dry state and said, The public is against alcohol. An entire generation is getting destroyed.
The government has introduced permit system to check illicit liquour. But the question arises whether it has actually worked on the ground, the legislator asked.
Participating in the discussion Atul Bora, AGP president and MLA, expressed concern about the physical and mental health of the tea garden workers community which has fallen victim to the tragedy stating they are known to consume sulai, illegal distilled country liquour which is suspected to have caused the largescale deaths.
The regional party MLA also pointed that despite such a large number of deaths and hundreds taken ill, there appeared no great sign of distress among the survivors which indicated to problems in the mental make-up caused by exploitation for generations.
Accusing the Excise department officials of being aware of the nexus involved in the illicit liquor trade, but turning a blind eye to it, Congress' Ajanta Neog demanded a complete ban on laligur (molasses) used in manufacture of illicit country liquor, mechanism to stop production and sale of illicit liquour, massive awareness drive against it, besides arrest of the culprits.
Congress legislator Roselina Tirkey belonging to the tea community asserted the blame and responsibility must be shared by the tea garden owners, trade unions and the government for failing to do enough to uplift the general well-being of the tea garden workers or uproot illicit liquour trade in their areas.
Aminul Islam (AIUDF) joining in the demand for making the state alcohol-free urged the Assembly to adopt a unanimous resolution in this regard.
Demanding a CBI inquiry into the incident, Islam wanted increase in the monetary compensation to victims and destruction of all illicit liquour dens.
Ministers Pallab Lochan Das and Pijush Hazarika also took part in the discussion where MLAs from the ruling BJP and BPF also expressed their views.
Excise Minister Parimal Suklabaidya in his reply to the discussion, said that sulai being illegal neither does it come under the purview of his department nor can his department control laligur as it falls under the Food and Civil Supplies department.
Assuring to ensure that his department strictly enforces the existing Excise laws to stop illegal manufacturing or trade of illicit liquour, he responding to the Opposition's demand for his resignation said, I have no problem in resigning.
In fact, I had started my public life by fighting sulai in tea garden areas of my place.
Replying to the discussion, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary said 155 deaths have so far reported in Golaghat and Jorhat districts since the tragedy happened on Thursday night even as he assured the House that exemplary punishment will be meted out to those responsible for it.
Informing that investigations are on into whether the laligur that is suspected to have caused the tragedy was supplied to other places also, Patowary insisted, there is a need for economic uplift of the tea garden workers community and an overhaul of the entire system.
Minister Patowary also supported a proposal of the opposition for an all-party delegation led by the speaker to visit the affected people.

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First Published: Feb 25 2019 | 8:35 PM IST

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