Three women were among 17 people who died after reportedly consuming spurious liquor in the Villupuram and Chengalpattu districts in Tamil Nadu.
About 40 others are undergoing treatment in various hospitals. Nearly a dozen people are said to be in a grievous condition.
Following the tragedy, the police cracked down on illicit liquor gangs, registered 202 cases, and arrested 203 people from the Cuddalore, Villupuram, Nagapattinam, and Mayiladuthurai districts — besides seizing 5,091 litres of hooch — in the past 24 hours, the DGP’s office said in a statement on Monday, 15 May.
The Tamil Nadu government has decided to hand over the probe to the Crime Branch-Crime Investigation Department (CB-CID). Earlier, 10 teams were formed to probe the cases.
Meanwhile, Leader of the Opposition Edappadi K Palaniswami has asked Chief Minister MK Stalin to own the moral responsibility and resign.
In one incident…
The police said that fishermen from the coastal hamlet of Ekkiyarkuppam bought hooch from one Amaran, reportedly an illicit liquor seller, who was later arrested.
After consuming the liquor, people fell unconscious and were taken to the Jawaharlal Institute of Post-Graduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER) and Pondicherry Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS).
Six people died on Sunday. Six others died on Monday while undergoing treatment. Two others died in another village.
The deceased have been identified so far as Sankar (55), Dharanivel (50), Suresh, (65), Rajamoorthy (55), Malarvizhi (60), and K Mannankatti, (65), all belonging to Ekkiyarkuppam village. Two others, Vijayan and Sharatkumar of the same village, also died.
The police said Mannankatti was a supplier, who also consumed the liquor. Another supplier, V Amaran (27), was undergoing treatment. He has been arrested.
Employer supplies illicit liquor
In Maduranthagam taluk of the Chengalpattu district, four people under treatment at the government hospital died after consuming suspected methylated spirit, or denatured alcohol.
According to the Chengalpattu police, tribespeople from Perumkaranai were working on a farm belonging to one Ammavasai.
On Thursday, 11 May, Ammavasai procured illicit liquor from Puducherry and served it to the workers.
Neighbours found Chinnathambi (34), his wife Anjali (22), and his mother-in-law Vasantha (42) unconscious on Friday and rushed them to Government Hospital at Maduranthakam, where Chinnathambi and Vasantha died. Anjali is critical, and in hospital.
Venniappan and Chandira of the same village also died. One of the deceased is yet to be identified.
K Surya, a relative of Chinnathambi, told South First that the sale of illicit liquor was rampant in the area.
“They sell liquor for ₹30 per 100 ml. Daily wagers and villagers are their clientele. They bring liquor from Marakkanam and a local DMK functionary is behind the production and distribution of illicit liquor,” he alleged.
He added that the local police knew about the illegal activity, but took no action.
Police officers suspended
Following the hooch tragedy, the Tamil Nadu Police suspended 10 of its officers, including the Villupuram Superintendent of Police (SP) N Shreenatha.
The Deputy Superintendents of Police (Prohibition Enforcement Wing) of the Villupuram and Chengalpet districts were also suspended.
Chengalpet SP A Pradeep was transferred, but no posting has been given.
On Sunday evening, Director-General of Police (DGP) C Sylendra Babu ordered the suspension of inspectors Arun Vadivel Azhagan (Marakkanam) and Maria Sobi Manjula (Kottakuppam-Prohibition Enforcement Wing); and sub-inspectors Deepan (Marakkanam) and Sivagurunathan (PEW) in connection with the Villupuram incident.
In the Chengalpattu district, Melmaruvathur Inspector Prem Anand, Siddhamoor Sub-Inspector Mohanasundaram, and PEW Sub-Inspector Ramesh were suspended. Ammavasai and Ravi were also arrested.
Ammavasai, who too had consumed the brew, is undergoing treatment at Chengalpet Government Medical College and Hospital.
Chief Minister MK Stalin announced a solatium of ₹10 lakh from the Chief Minister’s Public Relief Fund to families of the three deceased in Marakkanam and assistance of ₹50,000 to those undergoing treatment.
— CMOTamilNadu (@CMOTamilnadu) May 14, 2023
CB-CID to probe
Stalin and his cabinet colleagues K Ponmudi, EV Velu, DM Anbarasan, and KS Masthan visited the Viluppuram Government Medical College hospital where those who took ill after consuming the illicit liquor were getting treated.
The chief minister enquired about the health of the patients with the hospital authorities. He also met the patients and their relatives.
Later, speaking to reporters, Stalin said that stringent action would be initiated against those responsible for the tragedy.
“So far, nine people hailing from Ekkiyarkuppam died at the Villupuram Government Medical College hospital, where 40 people are being treated. Three people are undergoing treatment at JIPMER and one person is in Puducherry government hospital,” he said.
“In Chengalpet district, five people died and seven others are being treated at the Chengalpet Government Medical College Hospital,” he added.
Stalin said the CB-CID would probe the case since the deaths were caused by methanol, used for industrial purposes.
Earlier, the chief minister held a meeting with the home secretary, DGP, Villupuram and Chengalpet district collectors and superintendents of police in Villupuram.
EPS seeks Stalin’s resignation
Stating that the tragedy could have been averted if the government had taken preventive measures, Opposition Leader Edappadi K Palaniswami urged Stalin to own the moral responsibility and resign.
“I warned the government even in the recent Assembly session against the illicit liquor sales in Marakkanam and other parts of the state,” he told reporters.
“Even the media highlighted the issue. But the state did nothing. The law and order situation has completely deteriorated in Tamil Nadu. Taking moral responsibility for the deaths, Stalin should resign,” the AIADMK leader demanded.
Claiming that liquor is being sold round the clock at TASMAC bars, Palaniswami said the government has been bothered only about revenue and not about the lives of people.
He alleged that the police are hamstrung due to the interference of the chief minister’s family members. Palaniswami also said that he will be visiting Villupuram and Chengalpet districts on Tuesday, 16 May.