VIJAYAWADA: Who should be held responsible for the liquor tragedy that has claimed 16 lives so far in Mylavaram mandal _ people of the thanda addicted to illicit liquor, excise and prohibition officials who are dutybound to check illicit distillation or the unscrupulous producers of hazardous liquor?
It will take some time to pinpoint the blame though two excise circle inspectors, two subinspectors and six constables have been suspended. According to Bukya Srinivas, a government employee from Poratanagar thanda, illicit liquor distillation in the Poratanagar, Naguluri and Kanimerla thandas in Mylavaram and Reddynagar mandals is common knowledge as it has been going on for several years. About 70 per cent of the people, including women, there are habitual drinkers, he says.
Nagaraju, a youth of Poratanagar thanda who formed a committee to fight against liquor distillation at the thandas, says that an estimated 100 litres of illicitlydistilled liquor is sold in just the three thandas which have a population of 1,500 people each.
"We protested against brewing of liquor in the thandas and even managed to bring it to a halt for a month recently, but the people behind the distilleries warned us of dire consequences. They even threatened us with false police cases if we come in their way. We submitted a memorandum to the excise police at Mylavaram but no one tried to check illegal brewing,'' he says. The gutsy youth has disclosed the names of those involved in the illicit distillation to the police who launched an investigation into the cause of deaths.
Azmeera Jamma, secretary of a selfhelp group at Portanagar, says that several women in the thandas have tried to discourage liquor consumption but have been threatened by the mafia. "We do not know how illicit distillers scent excise raids. It is not difficult to guess. The excise department's raids have not eradicated the evil,'' she laments. Lavuri Laxman, a school dropout and whose grandmother Soni (70) died after consuming the liquor on Saturday, says many youths start drinking at the tender age of 16 years and become addicts in no time.
Excise police, however, say that it is not possible to put a stop to illicit brewing. For thanda people, liquor consumption is a custom and part of their soiciocultural milieu. An awareness should be created in them by voluntary organisations and others, says an officer.