The incident triggered a political slugfest in the Bihar assembly, with opposition leaders launching a strong attack on Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar over a spate of deaths from illicit alcohol use in the state.
Later, an irate Nitish lost his cool in the assembly and lashed out at opposition MLAs who have targeted the government for the ban in the state.
The sale and consumption of alcohol was banned in Bihar by the government of Nitish Kumar in April 2016.
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20 die in suspected drunkard’s tragedy
The death toll from the suspected alcohol poisoning rose to 20 on Wednesday, ANI news agency reported.
Some people consumed alcohol late on Tuesday at a local venue and fell ill after returning home, police said.
According to the sources, some of the victims had complained of malaise, nausea, breathlessness, stomach pain and blurred vision.
After the deaths, angry villagers blocked the Masrakh Hanuman Chowk on State Highway 90 and chanted slogans against the district administration.
District administration officials said the cause of death was yet to be ascertained.
“Loss of Vision, Discomfort”
The son of one of the victims said his father went out with his friends to the village on December 12 for a liquor party.
“After he got home, his health deteriorated and he started vomiting. We took him to the nearby hospital, where he died,” he said.
“My brother complained of vision loss and discomfort, we took him to Masrak Health Center for treatment. Seeing his deterioration, doctors referred him to Sadar Hospital, where he died,” the brother said of another victim.
The Bihar government promises strict action
Following the tragedy, Bihar’s excise minister Sunil Kumar on Wednesday “confirmed” that some people died from consuming spurious liquor and promised the government would take “strict action” against the perpetrators.
“The process of filling out an FIR is ongoing. I spoke to SP on the phone. So far he has confirmed the deaths of six people,” Sunil Kumar said after being asked if the police would take any action in this case .
“We don’t hesitate to arrest or take action in these cases whenever there is evidence,” he said.
Kumar said that the JD(U) government will continue to “repress the culprits responsible for the deaths”.
The opposition attacks the sharp government
The incident triggered a massive political showdown in the state, with opposition lawmakers staging a rally outside the state assembly.
Protesting the incident, opposition BJP MLAs blamed the deaths on the “nexus” between police and illicit liquor dealers.
BJP MLAs stage protest against alcohol ban policy
“We have always supported the alcohol ban, even when it was introduced while we were in opposition. But its implementation was a complete failure,” said former Deputy Prime Minister Tarkishor Prasad.
Nitish loses his temper
Under attack by BJP lawmakers, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar lost his composure in the state assembly on Wednesday.
Janata Dal-United chief slammed the BJP for protesting the deaths while opposition leader Vijay Kumar Sinha questioned the state’s alcohol ban policy.
#LOOK | Bihar CM Nitish Kumar loses his temper in State Assembly as LoP Vijay Kumar Sinha questions State Government… https://t.co/u1cCFi8K3F
— ANI (@ANI) 1671001555000
#LOOK | Sharab bandi ke paksh mein aap sab the ya nahi?…Kya ho gaya?..Sharabi ho gaye tum log…Ab tolerate nahi… https://t.co/nCG7YB1aGW
— Times of India (@timesofindia) 1671014494000
” Sharab bandi ke paksh mein aap sab the ya nahi?…Kya ho gaya?..Sharabi ho gaye tum log…Ab tolerate nahi kiya jaayega(Wasn’t you all in favor of prohibition? What happened? You’re all drunk now… this will not be tolerated)” shouted a visibly angry Nitish Kumar in the House as the BJP MLAs attacked.
Meanwhile, a JD(U) MLA also blamed the government for Prohibition.
Speaking at the meeting, Sanjeev Kumar of JD(U) said, “The liquor ban has completely failed in Bihar and the Dalit and extremely backward classes are becoming victims of the law. We need to review the law again.”
“Nitish’s Time Is Up”
BJP MP Sushil Kumar Modi reacted strongly to Nitish’s “sharabi” statement in the assembly, saying that “time is over” for the CM of Bihar.
“Nitish Kumar’s tenure is over. He has lost his memory. He calls Prashant Kishor and BJP MLAs as ‘you’, ‘tum’. It happened before too. Now he loses his temper very often. But his temper was not like earlier,” the former deputy prime minister told ANI.
‘Nitish should reconsider prohibition policy in Bihar’
Bihar BJP leaders including Union Minister Giriraj Singh on Wednesday called on CM Nitish Kumar to reconsider the prohibition policy in the state, claiming it has failed with the illegal sale of spurious liquor causing frequent deaths and rising related crimes.
Singh told reporters outside Parliament that Kumar should convene an all-party meeting on the issue and make a decision accordingly. “If a policy is unsuccessful, then it should be reconsidered,” he said.
Pataliputra MP and former Union Minister Ram Kripal Yadav echoed Singh’s view and said the prime minister should not make the ban a matter of personal prestige. “He should implement it effectively or step down,” he added.
(With contributions from agencies)