There is absolutely nothing new or strange about illegal sale of spurious liquor in Assam or several other parts of the country. The outcome being that a large number of people die after consuming such spurious liquor. Over the decades, Assam as well as some other States have been witness to countless number of such incidents which in journalistic jargon is referred to as hooch tragedy.
While more often than not, the victims of such tragedy generally belong to the economically lower section of the society, mainly the working class, it is obnoxious enough that every such gruesome incident involving death of scores of consumers of spurious liquor is almost as a rule followed by a virtually set and established drama enacted by political and bureaucratic high-ups that all culprits would be brought to book and punished in accordance with the law.
However, with the passage of time, the entire issue of hooch death fades into oblivion and hooch business gets back to its original and illegal track seemingly with all the blessings of the powers that be.
While news of a dozen people dying and many more undergoing treatment after consuming such spurious liquor sold illegally under the very nose of the Government hit the media headline quite off and on, it was just about a fortnight ago that the worst ever hooch tragedy in recent history of the State rocked Assam.
Hooch, the merchant of death, made its ugly appearance in the districts of Golaghat and Jorhat in Upper Assam and took a toll of over 150 lives while even a greater number had to undergo the ordeal of struggle of life and death in various hospitals after consuming illegally sold spurious liquor.
As stated above, very much in the expected line, the Dispur Czars and the bigwigs at the district level wasted no time in making the stale and stereotype announcement that the culprits responsible for the hooch death would not be spared.
Going by an analysis of the Government approach on the hooch front over the last few decades, one may be very much on safe ground in drawing the conclusion that this was certainly not the last of such tragedies to strike the State and that many more such incidents of hooch death may very much be on the cards in the months and years to come.
Accordingly, the people may only hear the Dispur Mughals and the district ‘senapatis’ singing the same song in the same tune every time the hooch merchants of death rais their ugly heads in the State in the days to come.
Going by the galloping corruption in the State Excise and Police departments and among the high-ups at State and the district levels, may one have the audacity to question Dispur as to where this roadmap of hooch death is likely to end? Talking from the reverse end, may one ask the Dispur Sultans to make an announcement that the State would not be witness to any hooch tragedy, even of the tiniest dimension, in Assam any more.
As in the case of failure on the drugs front or checking other forms of social evils, in the case of hooch tragedies too, if one party is to be blamed, it is the State Government. With sky-rocketing of corruption on all fronts in the Government sector, the roving and most powerful wing in the State administration today is kleptocracy (rule by theft).
It is not that the kleptocrats have suddenly appeared from nowhere and took over the reins of the Government. It took decades of burgeoning and accelerating corruption for kleptocracy to establish itself virtually as the number one agenda in the Government sector.
In this context, the state excise and police departments are old players in the field. It may be pertinent to recall at this juncture that former political heavyweight and president of the Indian National Congress the late Devakanta Barua has specifically named the state excise and police departments in this respect in his poem ‘Sagar Dekhisa’ written in the early forties. The only difference being that corruption in the two departments has multiplied a thousand fold since the days of the poet.
Significantly, as the death toll began to mount by leaps and bounds with hooch letting loose all hell in Golaghat and Jorhat districts, locals came forward before TV cameras to openly name several hooch barons as being responsible for the deaths. While these merchants of death are known to be often rubbing shoulders in the corridors of power from the district level to the state level, it was only after long delay that the government played to the gallery by picking up a handful of hooch bigwigs while the owners of several low grade illicit liquor dens were arrested.
Again, fortunately for the high ups in the state capital, while the hooch tragedy was stealing the top slot in the state media, the Pulwama terror strike and its aftermath came in to grab the media headlines for several days at a stretch. The result being that the spurious liquor tragedy virtually disappeared from the state media gaze.
As of now, seemingly to the utter delight of powers that be in Dispur, the focus of the media has shifted by almost a full 180 degrees. The process of deletion of the tragedy from public mind has already apparently begun with the shifting of the focus of media to other issues.
While presently, the State Government appears (at least on paper and in words) to be adopting a hard stand against illicit country liquor trade while going hammer and tongs over its move, the general view in the conscious circle is that much sooner than later all such illicit country liquor business would be back on the rails, courtesy state government while the concerned departments would be back to the business of minting money soon.
Obviously, the state government may be asked as to how many government officials, particularly of the state excise and police departments, have been taken to task, put behind bars or have lost their jobs for the death of so many people. Are top district officials like deputy commissioner, superintendent of police or excise superintendent above board? Are they not answerable for the tragedy? Dispur may be told that suspension of two junior officers of the excise department is not enough. In any case, it is common knowledge that it is a stroke played to the gallery and that the suspended officials would be back on duty elsewhere in the State very soon.
Further, with the general elections round the corner, the hooch tragedy is likely to be a forgotten chapter much sooner than normal. While virtually all political parties resort to distribution of liquor to woo voters, particularly in rural, tribal and tea garden belts, during election time, it is almost certain that liquor trade, both legal and illegal, would increase many-fold as the poll date draws closer.
The post-election period would only witness the liquor trade, particularly the illicit category, back on the normal track, while some officials from the sub-divisional level to those at the seat of power in Dispur as well as some political heavyweights would surely have a field day as a new era of money minting would dawn upon them.
What the powers that be in Dispur pretends not to see or understand or even deliberately overlook is that the rampant corruption in the concerned departments is the root cause of such hooch tragedy.
As long as corruption rules the roost in the said departments, the hooch monster of death would continue to strike the society from time to time. While corruption is a burgeoning, galloping and accelerating phenomenon in the State, the society would continue to pay heavily, even in terms of dear life, to the dons of the liquor mafia, drug mafia, syndicate kingpins and the like, who more often than not, enjoy the blessings of the powers that be at the seat of power in the State.