86 Dead From Punjab Toxic Liquor, 7 Excise Officials, 6 Cops Suspended

Twenty-five people have been arrested so far while Chief Minister Amarinder Singh warned of strict action against anyone found involved in the case.

The count rose sharply by Saturday night with 48 more deaths being reported during the day.

Chandigarh:

The Punjab hooch tragedy - in which 86 people lost their lives - is the consequence of the Congress-led government's patronage to its leaders, ministers and MLAs for allegedly carrying out illegal liquor trade, Shiromani Akali Dal's Sukhbir Singh Badal alleged on Saturday, demanding Chief Minister Amarinder Singh's resignation.

The statement came as the death count sharply increased in the day as 48 more people died after drinking toxic liquor.

Twenty-five people have been arrested so far while Captain Singh warned of strict action against anyone found involved in the case. Seven excise and six police officials have been suspended.

"The hooch tragedy is the direct and natural consequence of the patronage given to Congress leaders, including ministers and MLAs, for freely carrying out rampant illicit liquor trade in the state," Mr Badal said in a statement.

"It is a murder, pure and simple. All the guilty, including ministers and ruling party MLAs, be arrested," he demanded, adding that the Chief Minister should step down immediately owning the moral responsibility for this "horrendous crime".

He said the magisterial probe ordered by the Chief Minister must be scrapped and demanded an independent probe by a high court judge into the incident.

In response, the Chief Minister asked him not to "politicise the tragedy", saying such cases had happened under the Akali Dal-BJP regime too, listing similar tragedies in 2012 and 2016 in Gurdaspur and Batala.

Several lives were lost in those cases too, the Chief Minister said, adding that in the Batala incident, no FIR was registered and no action taken against the main accused.

Sixty-three of the deaths were reported from Tarn Taran district, 12 in Amritsar and 11 in Gurdaspur's Batala since Wednesday evening, officials said.

The first deaths were reported in Amritsar's Muchhal village on Wednesday evening. By Friday night, according to official figures, 38 people had died. By Saturday night, the count rose sharply with 48 more deaths being reported during the day.

Officials in Chandigarh were not able to say how many people were still admitted to hospitals after drinking the illegally made country liquor.

The police have conducted several raids to catch those responsible. After eight arrests on Friday, they caught 17 more people in over 100 raids in the three districts and several other places on Saturday.

The raiding parties seized large quantities of "lahan" - the raw material for making liquor - from various villages and "dhabas" or roadside eateries in the region around the Shambhu border, Rajpura and Patiala, Director General of Police Dinkar Gupta said.

The raids have exposed a massive liquor racket, extending across several districts, he said.

(With inputs from PTI)