Death toll in Mumbai hooch tragedy crosses 100. What really happens afterwards?
Hearing on a PIL filed after the 2004 Vikhroli hooch tragedy that claimed 105 lives is still going on. Even the police and excise official suspended after the incident were reinstated, says Bhagvanji Raiyani, who had filed the PIL
Bhagvanji Raiyani, who has filed a number of public interest litigations (PILs) on several issues, feels that nothing much happens even after tragedies where over 100 people die after consuming illicit liquor. He was referring to last week’s incident in Malwani area in Mumbai, where till date 102 people have died. There is a reason from Mr Raiyani’s comment. Hearing on a PIL filed by him after the 2004 Vikhroli hooch tragedy that claimed 105 lives is still going on. Even the police and excise official suspended after the 2004 incident were reinstated, says Mr Raiyani.
Due to wide publicity as well as hype and glamour associated with the International Yoga Day, most electronic media (read TV news channels) ignored a tragedy that gripped slum dwellers in Mumbai's Malwani area. Even as the death toll in the hooch tragedy crossed 100, there hardly was any mention or 'dissection' on these channels. However, the main question is what happens after such disasters? Unfortunately, nothing. After a few days silence everything goes on as normal.
Take for example, in December 2004, similar incident claimed 105 lives at Vikhroli in Mumbai. After a hue and cry, the state government suspended several police and excise officers. Following departmental enquiry, all of them were reinstated. What is more shocking is even there is a delay in getting justice for this case.
"...massive raids (after the Vikhroli tragedy) on several illicit liquor dens were carried out, thousands of litres of liquor was seized, some 600 people in hooch trade arrested (and most of them allowed to go scot-free). Some 40 police officers were initially suspended, inquiries were held against 21 but subsequently all were reinstated. Also six officers from Excise department were suspended, the farce of enquiries was performed but all were reinstated," says Mr Raiyani.
After the Vikhroli hooch tragedy, Mr Raiyani filed a PIL (No 435 of 2005) through Janhit Manch. However, the hearing is still going on. During the last hearing on 29 September 2010, the Bombay High Court Bench of Justices Ranjana Desai and RV More expressed a surprise over the delay from the government side in completing the inquiry. The hearing is still going on.
According to Mr Raiyani, earlier a tragedy occurred due to consumption of haatbhatti (illegally brewed) liquor on 31 December 1991 when 93 person died in a South Mumbai slum. The Maharashtra government appointed a seven members committee under the chairmanship of PR Parthsarthy, the then Additional Inspector General of Police. Its main term of reference was exhaustive as "All incidental matters and factors responsible for this tragedy, as also the factual position behind this tragedy; to suggest measures to prevent recurrence of similar tragedies in future".
The committee has chronicled few earlier major hooch tragedies occurred (1) Khopoli in 1971 where 77 died (2) Ghatkoper in 1977, 48 deaths (3) Chiplun 1977, 21 died (4) Bombay Worli 1988, 32 deaths.
Mr Raiyani said, "This committee prepared an 80 page voluminous report not perfectly in lieu of terms of reference but a bureaucratic type mainly harping on Methanol, a poisonous product from sugarcane molasses, a cheap raw material being mixed in the bhatti liquor to get kick. It costs fourth of the end product, so quite cheap".
"The recent hooch tragedy at Malwani (Malad) last week where 102 people died may see the same fate if the court doesn't take Suo Motu cognisance of the case and doesn't monitor the case to its logical end," Mr Raiyani concluded.