The Deadly Crimes of Alcohol – the Hooch Tragedy

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Liquor is now the trending subject in the Indian politics. In Bihar, Nitish Kumar is trying to prohibit the mere possession of the same. In Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan is planning to reopen the bars. The Supreme Court has banned liquor shops within 500 meters of the Highways.

All of these debated on the right of the citizens to choose what they eat and drink. Recently, the Supreme Court had delivered a judgment on another aspect of Liquor. It is the deadliest reason why a prohibition on its consumption.

Facts

In Haryana, due to the consumption of adulterated liquor,36 persons lost their lives. Another 44 persons who consumed that liquor lost their eyesight permanently. The Trial Court had arrested about 48 persons but convicted only two of them. Those two were the licensees of that liquor vend.  Relying on the provisions of Section 300 ‘fourth clause’ of IPC and the ratio of the Apex Court in Joseph Kurian Philip Jose v. the State of Kerala, the respondents were convicted.

The key point through which the trial court reached the conclusion is that the alcohol which was sold was said to have methanol poison. The accused was running the liquor shop for a quite a long period of time to understand the consequences of the toxicity of the methanol poison.

Yet, when the case reached the High Court, the court took a U-turn to hold that there was no direct evidence to show that the toxicity arose from the alcohol distributed by the accused. They held:-

While there is oral and expert evidence available to prove that methyl alcohol was present in the viscera taken from the bodies of the deceased during the post mortem yet there is no material on the record to prove that the methyl alcohol which was found in the viscera was consumed from the bottles that had been purchased by the deceased or some one known to them from the liquor vends of the appellants….The learned Advocate General, has not been able to pin point any evidence to prove that a sample from the container in which the liquor was purchased from the end of the two appellants was also sent to the Forensic Expert to prove that methyl alcohol found in the body of any one of the deceased was possibly ingested on account of the same having been consumed from the aforesaid bottle

Regarding the criminal conspiracy, the court held that:-

To put it otherwise, the High Court concluded that there cannot be the 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.

Issue

On these assumptions, the High Court acquitted the two convicts and asked the State government to pay a compensation of 2 lakhs. The payment of the compensation has been done dutifully. The question that remains before the court is whether the two accused can be acquitted.

Judgment

The Supreme Court overturned the High Court verdict and restored the trial court judgment on these reasons:-

The High Court ignored the statements of persons who had lost their eye-sight immediately after consumption of the spurious liquor.  Those statements are relevant under the Section 7 of the Evidence Act.

Secondly, the Supreme Court relied on the supporting evidence to prove that there was direct involvement of the accused in this case:-

Even if this is a lapse on the part of the prosecution, this very conduct of the respondents in throwing away the remaining stock becomes a supporting piece of evidence along with other evidence brought on record…

Finally, the Supreme Court closed its judgment by reminding the nation about the deadly causes of alcohol:-

The respondents (accused) cannot be treated as mere cat’s paw and naïve.  They have exploited the resilience nature of bucolic and rustic villagers…

The Learning Outcome

Through this judgment, the Supreme Court had again set a precedence against trivializing the tragedies caused by the adulteration of alcohol. It was reading the supportive evidence together to hold the accused liable irrespective of the fact that there is no direct evidence.

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