Kallakurichi illicit liquor tragedy: Residents allege police took bribes from peddlers

Residents of Karunapuram village where 34 people have died, alleged that the sale of illicit liquor happens in broad daylight, with each packet being sold for as low as Rs 5.
Kallakurichi illicit liquor tragedy: Residents allege police took bribes from peddlers

Families of those who lost their lives to illicit liquor from Karunapuram in Kallakurichi district, Tamil Nadu have alleged that the local police are complicit in the brewing and sales of illicit liquor. They also alleged that the police used to take bribes from the peddlers and would tip off the peddlers if anyone complains.

Karunapuram village, located just 500 m from the local police station, has reported 34 deaths between Wednesday, June 19 and Thursday, June 20. The district police have arrested four persons as of Thursday, including a man identified as Kannukutty (49).

Sumathi, a resident of Karunapuram who lost her neighbour in the tragedy, told TNM, “Illicit liquor is regularly sold in this area and the police know about it too. In the past, the police have disclosed the identity of the persons who complained about illicit liquor sales, leading to complainants receiving threats from peddlers.” Sumathi added that people in Karunapuram had stopped complaining out of fear. 

Another resident, who corroborated Sumathi’s statement, added that peddlers have even tried to assault people who complained to the police. “Even if someone complains, the peddlers stop brewing and selling for 10 days and then resume,” she said.

According to Sumathi and many other residents of Karunapuram, the police regularly take bribes from the brewers and peddlers. “If the brewers and peddlers were not bribing the police, they couldn’t have possibly been selling the liquor,” a resident told TNM.

The residents also alleged that the liquor is usually sold in the village in small packets that are priced at just Rs 5. They alleged that peddlers come on two-wheelers and sell liquor packets on the road even to 13-year-old and 15-year-old boys. “They don’t sell it to new faces because they fear that someone would complain. The sales are restricted to the residents only. Buying and consuming of this liquor happens in broad daylight,” a resident said.

A woman who lost her brother in the tragedy told TNM that she had seen him consume the liquor on the road on Tuesday, June 18. “After I heard that people who had consumed those packets were falling sick, I told my family members to check on my brother. He had gone for his daily wage job on Wednesday and had fainted there. We took him to the hospital but his condition worsened and he died,” she said.

The residents told TNM that the local police go on rounds in the village in the evenings. “Once in a while, they catch a person or two with illicit liquor. But they will take them away, collect money from them, and set them free,” a local resident said.

Since Wednesday, 109 persons have been hospitalised in the incident. The victims are under treatment at the Kallakurichi Government Medical College, JIPMER Puducherry, and the Salem Government Hospital. The case has been transferred to the CB-CID for investigation.

Following the deaths on Wednesday, June 19, Kallakurichi District Collector Sravan Kumar Jatavath was transferred and the district’s Superintendent of Police (SP) was suspended.

It has barely been a year since May 2023, when 22 persons lost their lives after consuming illicit liquor in Tamil Nadu’s Villupuram and Chengalpattu districts. The Villupuram police had confirmed that the fatalities were due to the presence of methanol in the spurious alcohol consumed. Methanol, a potent substance, is a key ingredient used in illicit brewing and can lead to serious illness and death.

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