Hooch Thrives In Assam's Golaghat; Authorities Shift Responsibility!

Further, hooch is often cheaper than legal alternatives, making it accessible to economically disadvantaged sections of society.
Hooch Thrives In Assam's Golaghat; Authorities Shift Responsibility!
Hooch Thrives In Assam's Golaghat; Authorities Shift Responsibility!
Karishmita Saikia

Posing significant social, economic, and health challenges, the consumption of hooch (alcoholic liquor especially when inferior or illicitly made) has been a pertinent issue, especially in tea garden areas in Assam’s Golaghat district. Ingrained in social practices and considered as a norm for some communities makes its consumption much more perpetuated.

Reasons people prefer Hooch?

Further, hooch is often cheaper than legal alternatives, making it accessible to economically disadvantaged sections of society. Homemade brews often lack quality control measures raising concerns about contamination and alcohol content variability.

2019 Hooch Tragedy in Golaghat

In the year 2019, over 150 people died after drinking toxic bootleg alcohol (sulai) in tea graden areas of Golaghat district. The poisonings first came to attention on 21 February 2019, when 42 people died shortly after drinking the illegal alcohol. Over the following days, more people died from the poisoning and many more were admitted to local hospitals. On 24 February 2019, it was reported that a total of 144 people had died and more than 300 were admitted in hospitals making it one of the deadliest alcohol poisonings in the country. The next day, the death toll had risen to 156. The incident occurred at tea plantations in the districts, where most of the affected people were said to be labourers. It is believed that the labourers might have bought the liquor to drink after a day's work in the plantation.

Government action after the tragedy

After the tragic incident occurred, the excise department was ordered to evict illegal local alcohol manufacturing units in the district immediately and a decision was also taken to completely ban illegal molasses business in Golaghat.

What government officials have to say?

However, the question now is, "Has the ban come into place completely in the district?"

While trying to analyze the current situation of the district regarding the crucial issue, officials of the Excise Department informed Pratidin Time Digital desk that the number of people affected by consumption of spurious liquor in the district has significantly reduced.

Surprisingly, the Health Department officials of the district could not provide us accurate figures of people affected by and currently undergoing treatment due to its consumption. They opined that cases have comparatively diminished.

While speaking to the Excise Department officials, they mentioned that several enforcement activities were conducted after the 2019 tragedy which raised awareness among the people regarding the issue. According to an official, the prime areas where the incident spiked in 2019 were Jogibari and Selengi areas of Golaghat.

“Upon conducting awareness activities and anti-drugs prohibition activities across the district, we have been able to lessen the number of cases. Several enforcement activities were conducted in vulnerable areas like Halmora, Hautoli and Selengi areas, the number of cases has decreased. We have also been able to completely eradicate the menace from Jogibari,” added an official.  

However, even after two years of the tragedy, the seizure of several tins of molasses (thick syrup used as a sweetener) known as Lali gur locally in Golaghat’s Merapani in 2021 contradicted the statement of the excise department authorities. A joint team of the Excise and Food Safety personnel raided a godown and destroyed molasses at Ramnagar, Merapani along the Assam-Nagaland inter-state border, where 2500 tins of molasses that are not fit for human consumption were seized by personnel of both departments assisted by local police from the godown of an individual.

It is not unknown that several people in Assam are running the illegal business of hooch (sulai) by using molasses. There is no proper law and order to prevent this business that is running even today in various parts of the state.

Despite its cultural importance, spurious liquor consumption can lead to various health issues such as liver disease, addiction, and social problems. The production and sale of homemade liquor contribute to local economy through small-scale businesses and employment opportunities. While authorities aim to balance cultural practices with public health concerns, enforcement of safety standards and education on responsible consumption remain crucial but challenging tasks. 

A multifaceted approach involving community engagement, regulatory measures, and healthcare support is required to address the health hazards due to the consumption of liquor not just in the Golaghat district but the entire state.

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