2 Liquor vend owners to undergo life imprisonment for 37-year-old Kalanwali hooch tragedy

Supreme Court: In the 37-year-old Kalanwali hooch tragedy in which 36 people lost their lives and 44 people lost their eyesight after consuming spurious liquor in a Haryana village, the bench of Dr. A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, JJ reversed the acquittal of the 2 accused persons to whom the local liquor vends belonged and held that the accused cannot be treated as naïve as they had exploited the resilience nature of bucolic and rustic villagers and hence, they should undergo the punishment imposed by the Trail Court.

In 2000, the trail court had convicted 2 accused persons out of 48 for the offences under Section 302 IPC read with Section 120B IPC who were directed to undergo imprisonment for life and also to pay fine of Rs. 10,000/- each. They were also convicted for offence under Section 328 IPC read with Section 120B IPC for which they were to suffer imprisonment for a term of 5 years with fine of Rs. 5,000/- each. They were also convicted under Section 61(1)(a) of the Punjab Excise Act, 1914 for which sentence of six months rigorous imprisonment and fine of Rs. 1,000/- was imposed on the two convicts. All the sentences were to run concurrently. The High Court, however, acquitted the accused and held that though the cause of death was established, namely, consumption of methyl alcohol, but no connection was established by the prosecution of consuming the said alcohol by the deceased and other victims from the bottles that had been purchased by the victims from the vends of the accused. It was also held that there cannot be charge of criminal conspiracy under Section 120B of IPC in respect of two persons qua the respondents when others stood acquitted meaning thereby charge of conspiracy of the respondents along with other accused persons was not proved.

The Court took note of the fact that the gruesome occurrence, where so many persons became the victims, happened was proximate to the place where vends of the accused are situate. Post mortem of the deceased persons were conducted which led to a common finding, namely, methyl was found in the viscera of the dead bodies and the cause of death was consumption of alcohol containing methyl. It was noticed that all the victims had, immediately after suffering the aforesaid consequence of consuming liquor, made a specific and categorical statement that they had purchased the liquor from the vends of the accused. Hence, considering the fact that the spurious liquor was sold from the local vends belonging to the respondents coupled with the fact that after this tragedy struck, the accused even tried to destroy remaining bottles, the Court said that the accused had full knowledge of the fact that the bottles contain substance methyl and also had full knowledge about the disastrous consequences thereof which would bring their case within the four corners of Section 300 fourthly IPC. [State of Haryana v. Krishan, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 690, decided on 09.06.2017]

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