Mumbai: Criticising the Maharashtra government for not taking action against police and excise officers in a hooch tragedy case, a local court on Thursday awarded life imprisonment to four persons and two-year jail terms to 15 others for selling spurious liquor.
As many as 87 people had died after drinking the liquor in 2004.
The court came down heavily on the state for not initiating action against the police and excise officials who had been suspended earlier for "deliberate inaction and negligence".
Sessions Judge W K Kandankar observed that 57 policemen, including IPS officials, and the state excise staff, ought to have been made accused in the case.
"Deliberate inaction or negligence in any form... certainly amounts to abetment," the judge remarked.
"Such officers are equally liable for the commission of crime committed by the accused and they ought to have been prosecuted/implicated as co-accused in this case in order to eradicate deep rooted corruption practises and that too in the wider interest of society but the same is not done."
"The investigation is still at the liberty to initiate appropriate prosecution against such erring police officers... because merely putting them under suspension will not serve the purpose in the interest of society," the court said.
The incident had occurred on December 25, 2004, in suburban Vikhroli, where the liquor was sold. A total of 285 people were hospitalised after consuming the brew, which was found to contain methanol. Of them, 87, including two women, died.
Dayaram Mhatre, Pandit Kalan, Pradeep D`mello and Vishnu
Mhatre were sentenced to life imprisonment for making the liquor. The other 15 got two years` jail sentences on various counts for supplying/distribution.
The 15 accused who got lighter punishment are: Ramesh Pokarkar, Sanjay Kolekar, Laxmi Shetiyar, Vadivel Shetiyar, Ayappa Shetiyar, Chitra Shetty, Asha Saroj, Sunil Kandhare, Seema Shetty, Anand Shinde, Nagamma Shetty, Radha Shetty, Kharva Pavadt, Maya Khan and Babu Kamble.
The four who were given lifer are also being tried in another hooch case, registered in the same year, where 27 people had died near the high-security Arthur Road jail here. In all, 14 accused are facing trial in this case.