Close on the heels of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik announcing a judicial probe into spurious liquor killings, the state excise minister A U Singh Deo who was in the line of fire of the Opposition, has resigned owing moral responsibility for the incident.
Meanwhile, the death toll due to consumption of spurious liquor has climbed to 32 with 70 others still ailing in different hospitals.
Singh Deo's resignation has stirred the political turf in the state just ahead of the three-tier panchayat polls beginning February 11. Singh Deo, who was minister for planning & coordination, was given the excise portfolio in the last ministerial reshuffle held in May last year. I have resigned on moral grounds. The judicial probe into the incident should be fair and square and without any interference, Singh Deo said.
This is the second instance of a minister tendering his resignation on moral grounds in less than a month after his erstwhile colleague Pradeep Maharathy who held the agriculture portfolio, had put in his papers on January 19 over the Pipili Gangrape case.
The Pipili gangrape case and the hooch tragedy have brought in huge embarrassment for the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) at a time when the party is sparing no effort to bolster up its pro-poor image in the run up to the panchayat polls.
Opposition political parties have taken the resignation of ministers with a pinch of salt, alleging that the ministers are being sacked to save the blushes for the ruling party and its supremo Naveen Patnaik.
The situation has forced the excise minister to resign but the matter is not going to stop here. We had demanded the Chief Minister's resignation on the matter. Now, there is a need for an independent enquiry into the incident either by the CBI or Lokpal, said state Congress president Niranjan Pattnaik.
K V Singh Deo, leader of the BJP legislature party said, The Opposition had demanded the resignation of the Chief Minister as well as the excise minister. The resignation of the excise minister has come though it has come belatedly.
Most of the victims of the hooch tragedy, who had consumed spurious liquor at a joint in Mahidharpada area of Cuttack district, were daily wage earners and were engaged in a brick kiln. The labourers complained of chest and eye pain after consuming liquor on Monday night. Many of them were admitted to SCB Medical College-Cuttack in a critical condition.