GUWAHATI, Feb 25 - The State government is committed to undertake reform in the excise sector and amendments have already been brought in the Assam Excise Act, including abolishing the old mahaldari system.
An all-party delegation from the Assam Legislative Assembly will also visit the areas affected by the hooch tragedy in Golaghat and Jorhat districts soon.
Replying to a Zero Hour notice on the hooch tragedy in the Legislative Assembly today, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary said the government is constantly monitoring the situation arising out of the incident and all kinds of medical and other assistance have been provided to the affected people.
Patowary said that the death toll due to consumption of spurious liquor by people in Golaghat and Jorhat districts climbed to 155 till 9 am today. The death toll stood at 95 in Golaghat district, while another 97 are undergoing treatment. In Jorhat district, the number of people who have died after consuming spurious liquor was 60 till 9 am today, while another 171 are undergoing treatment at hospitals.
A total of 34 people have been arrested for their involvement in the case, including 26 in Golaghat district and eight in Jorhat district. Besides, the excise department has destroyed 52,000 litres of country-made liquor in Golaghat district and another 24,000 litres in Jorhat district during last three-four days, the minister added.
�Already three cases have been registered in Golaghat police station and another two at Borholla police station in Jorhat district in this regard,� he said, adding, among those nabbed in the Borholla incident are Jitu Sonowal, the main supplier of the spurious liquor, and his associate Sunil Baruah.
Patowary said that a forensic team has collected the samples of the spurious liquor and checking is on to ensure that the toxic item has not been sent to any other place. �The government has already ordered an inquiry into the incident and the guilty will be given exemplary punishment,� the minister said.
He said that the State government has already brought amendments to the Excise Act and scrapped the mahaldari system. The liquor lobby in Assam has been strong and active for long and played a leading role in removing the Golap Borbora government from power in the late 1970s, he said. �However, the Sarbananda Sonowal government has not hesitated to act tough,� he added.
Patowary said the Chief Minister and Health Minister are personally monitoring the situation arising out of the hooch tragedy and all help has been extended to the affected persons and their families, including a compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the next of kin of those who have died. He said the State government is open to the idea of organising the visit of an all-party delegation to the affected areas.
Speaker Hitendra Nath Goswami agreed to the idea of an all-party delegation, which had been demanded by many MLAs during the discussion. But he said that the visit has to be made after proper planning.
Excise Minister Parimal Suklabaidya said that the government has been conducting drives against spurious liquor since assuming office. Over 24,000 people were arrested during 2016-17 and another more than 24,000 in 2017-18 for their alleged involvement in the business of illicit liquor, he said.
Earlier, taking part in the discussion, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Pijush Hazarika said two teams of specialists, one each from Assam Medical College in Dibrugarh and Tezpur Medical College, have been sent to Jorhat and Golaghat to assist in the treatment of the affected persons. In addition, a team of forensic specialists has also been sent there.
Minister of State for Tea Tribes Welfare Pallab Lochan Das said tea garden areas have faced deprivation in all aspects since Independence. �Let the Assembly take a resolution that all MLAs will lead campaign against illicit liquor in their respective constituencies. Let us involve women�s self-help groups in the effort,� he said.
Initiating the discussion at the beginning, AGP legislator Brindaban Goswami said the society is suffering while unscrupulous elements make profit by selling liquor and drugs. �Police and the excise department fail to do their duty... Prohibition Council exists but is not active,� he said.
Expressing displeasure over rise in liquor sale, Goswami said this is not the proper way for the government to increase revenue generation. He supported declaring Assam as a �Dry State�.
Congress MLA Ajanta Neog said hooch tragedies have happened, albeit at a smaller scale, during recent years in the State, but nothing has come out of the inquiry reports. �This time the government should order a judicial inquiry,� she said.
She advocated mass awareness campaigns in tea garden areas regarding ills of liquor and called for strict implementation and monitoring of excise rules. She alleged that certain excise officials are engaged in helping in illegal trade of lali gur. �The government should ban lali gur,� she said.
AGP�s Atul Bora said a number of liquor stalls have sprung up at various places across Assam and in many instances police and excise staff patronage them. He demanded the visit of an all-party delegation led by the Speaker to the affected areas. Bora also termed the compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the next of kin of those who have died in the incident as �too less� and called upon the government to increase the ex gratia amount.