Chandigarh, August 4
In a major breakthrough in the hooch tragedy case, Punjab Police has arrested the Ludhiana-based Paint Store owner, allegedly responsible for triggering the chain of events that ultimately resulted in the death of 111 persons across three districts.
Rajeev Joshi, owner of Ludhiana Paint Store, was nabbed late on Monday evening, according to DGP Dinkar Gupta, who said the accused had disclosed that he supplied the three drums of methanol (methyl alcohol), which were used to make the spurious methanol based alcohol, to Prabhdeep Singh, nephew of Ravinder Anand of Moga who is further linked with Avtar Singh. The police is tracking the leads given by Joshi, who was reportedly procuring various types of alcohol and spirits from various places in Punjab and Delhi.
With the arrest of Joshi and two other key players in the entire tragic saga, the number of arrests in the case has gone up to 40 – 21 from Tarn Taran, 10 from Amritsar-Rural and 9 from Batala. The arrests followed 563 raids conducted in the three districts since July 31, under five FIRs registered in the case (one in Batala, 2 in Amritsar-R and 2 in Tarn Taran).
The DGP said one absconding accused, identified as Dharminder of Hathi Gate, Batala, was arrested on Tuesday in the case related to the 13 deaths in Batala. The DGP said 50 litres of alcohol was seized from him.
In addition, acting on the directives of Chief Minister Captain Amarinder, the State Police had launched a major state-wide crackdown on spurious liquor in the past 24 hours, leading to the arrest of 184 persons in 238 cases. A total of 5943 Ltrs of Illicit liquor, 1332 Ltrs of licit liquor and 32470 kgs of Lahan has been recovered, along with 8 working stills, in these state-wide raids conducted by Districts/Commissionerates at various suspicious places. The raids, personally supervised by senior officers, led to the arrest of the 184 accused involved sale/ procurement/ manufacturing of illicit liquor. The liquor and lahan seizures were reported from in and around Sutlej river in Ludhiana Police Commissionerate, some areas of Amritsar (Rural), Tarn Taran District, as well as Anandpur Sahib and Nurpur Bedi areas, said the DGP.
According to the DGP, the arrest of Joshi and other criminals, has led the police to identify some more key people involved in the manufacture and distribution of spurious liquor, including the supply chain of methanol (methyl alcohol), which led to the deaths in Tarn Taran, Amritsar & Batala. The three drums supplied by him to Ravinder and Avtar were further sold to Satnam Singh r/o Pandori Gola village, Tarn Taran. Satnam & his family members then supplied the methanol based illicit liquor to around a dozen distributors in the three districts. Enquiries are also being made from Delhi and other places regarding the possible source of methanol supplied by Rajiv Joshi.
With Satnam’s arrest, the Tarn Taran module of the mafia involved in his case had been busted, said the DGP, adding that atleast five more suspects in the district have been identified and raids were being conducted to nab them. The Batala module had been smashed with the arrest of Darshana and Triveni, who were procuring liquor from Gobinder Singh @ Gobinda of Jandiala who was further linked up with Satnam Singh in the illicit liquor supply chain. The key accused in Amritsar Rural, including Balwinder Kaur, was already under arrest. She had also procured the spurious alcohol from Gobinda.
Chemical examination of the drum residues and 70 litres of alcohol packed in pouches recovered from a ditch in Pandori Gola, at the instance of Satnam Singh, is being got done through the Excise Department.
Incidentally, methanol or methyl alcohol poisoning has been behind most of the hooch tragedies in India, including the recent one in Assam (168 deaths), UP (97 deaths) and Uttarakhand (30 deaths) in February 2020. Similar unfortunate hooch tragedies had earlier caused 167 deaths in Mumbai in June 2015 and in Bihar in August 2016. Currently, methanol is easily available in the market, and has many industrial applications including the manufacture of varnishes among other products.