Wednesday, Sep 03, 2003
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By R. Ilangovan
With the river rarely in spate of late, illicit liquor brewers have turned its dry bed into a safe haven for their activities. The river, which separates Namakkal and Karur districts, is now of use to bootleggers rather than for agriculture.
Many of the villages and hamlets situated on the other side of the Cauvery are known for illicit brewing. ``In fact, it is being run as a "cottage industry,'' says a senior police official, who also admits that it has increased manifold recently, thanks to growing unemployment.
However, it is alleged, the local police remain a mute spectator to the flurry of illegal activity, and thus the brewers are emboldened to sell liquor. But the police deny the charge and say they are helpless as a jurisdiction problem often interrupts their investigation process.
The Pothanur police, under whose limits a liquor tragedy occurred yesterday, vouched for this claim. ``If we chase them (bootleggers), they cross the river. Unfortunately that area comes under a police station falling in Karur district,'' says a policeman.
As hundreds of hamlets and villages are situated on either side of the Cauvery, the villagers criss-crossing the riverbed has become common. The bootleggers exploit this situation.
Failure of agriculture
With no water in the river, agriculture, primary occupation of the people, has suffered badly. The banks of the Cauvery in Karur and Namakkal districts are known for the finest variety of betel and rich banana plantations. ``But the inter-State bickering, over the Cauvery has dealt a blow to agriculture in the two districts,'' says a farmer.
The waterless Cauvery has, in fact, brewed more problems for the people, both socially and economically. A direct fallout is that the landless have been affected more in these 100-odd villages. Teeming with agriculture labourers, these villages are lifeless now. With no work on hand, many have started migrating as construction workers. ``The remaining few are falling into such evil habits,'' says a small-time icecream vendor, who was once an agriculture labourer at Pothanur.
All those who lost their lives to the killer brew on Monday were poor agriculture labourers and only breadwinners of their families. Most of them were middle aged. One of the victims, Subramani (48), has two daughters and a son, all schoolgoing. According to his wife, Banumathi, the family survived on the meagre income of her husband.
Too many people in the trade also ferment a cut-throat competition among the brewers. The Pothanur tragedy exposes it. Based on an initial report, the police suspected that out of ``business rivalry'', pesticide was mixed in the brew, which had been kept buried in the sands of the Cauvery some two days ago to escape police attention.
The police version has it that when the bootleggers from the other side of the river came to sell liquor at Pothanur, a local man raised objections. The bootleggers struck a truce, which, however, was short-lived as the deal did not please them. They allegedly mixed the pesticide in the liquor, the police said.
Meanwhile, senior police officials including the Additional Director-General of Police (Enforcement), Upadhyaya, and the ADGP (Law and Order), S.V. Venkatakrishnan, visited Pothanur. Preliminary investigation, according to hospital sources, has confirmed the presence of `Organo Phosphorous,' a chemical toxin, used widely in pesticides, in the body parts of the victims.
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