TN hooch tragedy death toll climbs to 37; 'illicit liquor sale was rampant in Kallakurichi, police turned a blind eye'

Over 100 people were hospitalised, with the condition of many said to be critical, after they consumed the spurious illicit liquor.
Grief-stricken relatives of hooch tragedy victims at Kallakurichi Government hospital on June 20, 2024.
Grief-stricken relatives of hooch tragedy victims at Kallakurichi Government hospital on June 20, 2024. (Photo | Sriram R, Express)

Kallakurichi in Tamil Nadu, about 240 km from the state capital of Chennai, is enveloped in grief after the death toll in Wednesday's hooch tragedy rose to 37. The numbers are likely to go up with 14 more said to be in a critical condition.

The tragedy was waiting to happen. Locals say Illicit liquor sale was rampant in Kallakurichi. Police failed to take action against the illicit liquor sellers, they said.

Most of the victims are daily-wage workers. They cannot afford Indian Made Foreign Liquor sold in Tasmac (The Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation) outlets. Hence, they depend on spurious liquor, which comes at a cheaper price. The victims had consumed illicit liquor sold in two huts and fell ill.

Three people have been arrested in connection with the tragedy.

Tragedy struck late on Tuesday night

Women shaking with grief and trying to come to terms with what has unfolded could be seen on visuals shown by news channels as they either rushed to see the bodies of their dear ones or clung to the bodies of their kin.

Out of the over 100 people hospitalised, the condition of at least 14 is said to be critical.

According to the Puthiya Thalamurai news channel, one Praveen was the first person to be taken to hospital. He consumed liquor around 11 am on June 18. One hour later, he complained of a burning sensation in his eyes and stomach ache. He was rushed to a hospital where the doctors refused to attend to him saying he was drunk. He was again taken to a hospital after several hours where he succumbed. Meanwhile, his relative Suresh also succumbed in a private hospital after consuming spurious liquor on Wednesday early morning. Thereafter the death toll kept rising.

A Perumal (31) a resident of Madhavcheri in Kallakurichi admitted his brother A Ramar (25) early on Thursday for treatment after the latter collapsed, complaining of ‘blindness’ and irritation in the eyes.

"He had consumed the hooch three days ago and was having frequent stomach aches but ignored it thinking it was triggered by food. But today (Thursday) morning he said his eyes were irritated. So I took him to the Kallakurichi GH," he said.

Perumal alleged wilful negligence on the part of the Prohibition Enforcement Wing police allowed the hooch sales to happen frequently and in the open.

Sixty-three-year-old Kannamma (name changed), whose son was one of those affected, said she did not know that he consumed alcohol or hooch.

"He was supposed to go to Chennai for work the next day and was staying home to attend the last day of the local temple festival. The last day is usually filled with celebrations and feasts. So, without letting me know he had hooch along with some of my relatives on Thursday and despite me asking him several times, he denied drinking it. After a few hours, he collapsed."

Grief-stricken relatives of hooch tragedy victims at Kallakurichi Government hospital on June 20, 2024.
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Names of the victims

The deceased include P Jagatheesan, South Street, Karunapuram, Kallakurichi, S Vadivukkarasi, R Suresh, R Murugan, P Dhanakodi, R Kuppusamy, K Ramakrishnan, R Lakshmi, G Subramani, C Anandhan, K Sekar, D Suresh, G Praveen Kumar and P Subramani, all belonging to Karunapuram.

C Kandhan, Kottaimedu,V Ayyavu, Thiruvaranganagar, K. Manikandan, Old Mariamman Temple Street, M Arumugam, Pallikooda Street, T Ramu, Vaikkal Mettu Theru, K Indira, Mariamman Koil Street, P Subramani, Kottai Medu, C Krishnamoorthy, Siruvangur Road, Kallakurichi, M Selvam, Pallikooda Theru, Veerachozhapuram, K Gopal, East Street, Siruvangur, Kallakurichi, S Kannan, Madur, Kallakurichi, K Ganesan, Madur, Kallakurichi, K Jagadheeswaran, A Poovarasan, Seshasamudram and A Narayanasamy, Kallakurichi.

The names of a few more victims are yet to be announced.

Stalin announces inquiry commission

Chief Minister MK Stalin immediately ordered a CBCID investigation into the matter. He also convened a review meeting with ministers.

The CBCID has formed several teams to probe into the matter.

A laboratory test showed the presence of deadly methanol in the arrack samples. According to a government release, officials expressed concern that the death toll may go up.

CM Stalin vowed to crush such crimes with an "iron fist."

In a post on 'X,' Stalin expressed shock and grief over the deaths. Those involved in the crime have been arrested and action has been taken against police personnel who failed to prevent it, he said.

He assured immediate action against those involved in "such crimes" if people share information. "Such crimes which ruin the society will be crushed with an iron fist," the CM added.

The government announced an inquiry commission and also an ex-gratia of Rs 10 lakh each to the next of kin of the victims.

Meanwhile, the Madras High Court will take up an urgent petition on the hooch tragedy on Friday given the seriousness of the matter.

Grief-stricken relatives of hooch tragedy victims at Kallakurichi Government hospital on June 20, 2024.
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Kallakurichi DM Transferred, SP suspended

The government immediately sprung into action after the Tamil Nadu hooch tragedy occurred.

Kallakurichi District Superintendent of Police Samay Singh Meena was suspended and Kallakurichi Collector Sravan Kumar Jatavath was transferred.

While SS Meena was replaced by Rajat Chaturvedi, MS Prashant was appointed the new Kallakurichi District Collector.

The entire Kallakurichi District Prohibition Police force has been transferred by the Tamil Nadu government.

Senior Minister A V Velu is in Kallakurichi to take stock of the situation.

DGP issues directives to district SPs for immediate crackdown on sale of loose alcohol, methanol

In light of at least 34 deaths due to consumption of illicit hooch in Kallakurichi on Wednesday, Tamil Nadu Head of Police Force DGP Shankar Jiwal on Thursday morning issued a directive to all district Superintendents of Police (SPs) to crackdown on sale of loose alcohol and conduct intensive prohibition raids.

Multiple sources told TNIE that Jiwal's directives also ordered that district police officials should ensure that leftover methanol in factories or industries should be properly accounted for and destroyed to ensure it is not illegally sold as hooch.

The DGP's instruction is broadly to check for loose selling of alcohol, conduct intensive prohibitive raids, create awareness among citizens about hooch and conduct intensive raids and checks.

"Every alcohol sold except the counter sales in TASMAC needs to be monitored and cracked down upon," a police source, quoting Jiwal's directives, said.

The district police already have a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and regular intelligence collection regarding sale of illicit alcohol, which has been reiterated by the DGP, sources said.

(With inputs from ENS)

Grief-stricken relatives of hooch tragedy victims at Kallakurichi Government hospital on June 20, 2024.
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