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October 27, 2000
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CRIME-HOOCH-POLITICS Hooch accused puts Kerala politicians in fix Trivandrum, Oct 27 (UNI) The public disclosure by Hairunnisa, the key accused in the recent twin hooch tragedy in the adjoining Kollam district, on making regular 'donations' to political parties and bureaucrats, has left leading parties in Kerala scurrying for cover. Soon after the arrest, the elderly ''hooch queen'' made no bones about her ''regular payments'' to politicians, police and excise officials, putting in a fix all vociferous parties which were blaming each other for the tragedy that claimed 32 people. While she had mentioned both the CPI(M) and the Opposition Congress as the beneficiaries, the former suffered more embarrassment as her claims marked a re-surfacing of earlier allegations about the ruling party's links with the liquor lobby. The claim about the 'nexus' comes at a time when the CPI(M) is mired in allegations of having conspired to kill a prohibition activist by goons of the liquor mafia right in front of the police, writing off of the arrears of excise contractors, and accepting contributions from the liquor barons for the party-promoted television channel, 'Kairali'. ''I have been giving regular donations to all political parties. The amounts varied from Rs 5,000 to 10,000. I used to send my buses to pick up people for their rallies and meetings,'' claimed Hairunnisa, who has four mini-buses. Though the Congress mounted pressure on the ruling Marxist party for its alleged nexus with the liquor lobby following the liquor tragedies, she said payments were made to the Congress as well. She went to the extent of saying that the Marxist men were ''at least satisfied'' with what was given, while the Congressmen, especially its youth wing, ''always demanded more.'' Hairunnisa claimed that she had contributed Rs 10,000 to the Kairali channel, but said she was ''yet to receive any share certificate.'' Chief Minister E K Nayanar sought to play down the allegation on donations, saying it was not just the CPI(M) which got them. ''All parties have had their share,'' he noted. Excise Minister T Sivadasa Menon, whose resignation was demanded by the opposition parties in the wake of the liquor tragedy, too dismissed her claim. But the Congress is undeterred. State Congress Unit chief Balakrishna Pillai and senior party leader Oommen Chandy dared the government to probe all the 'political connections' of the accused. Opposition Leader and former chief minister A K Antony said the beneficiaries, ''whoever they be'', should not escape the net. When this was pointed out, Congress vice-president K Muraleedharan, MP, said his party was ready to publicly announce that it would not accept contributions from the liquor dons. Hairunissa had disclosed that the first person she approached after the news spread about tragedy was a local CPI(M) leader. She went to him ''because he had helped me on many occasions,'' she said. Incidentally, one person, whose spirit tankers were recently allowed free passage allegedly on the intervention of the Excise Minister's office, was reported to be Rafi, an agent who supplied spirit to joints in Kollam district. An excise contractor, Manichan, another kingpin in the hooch tragedy, had also warned from his hide-out about going public about his links and donations to political parties. Hairunissa (50), who reportedly made big money from her illicit liquor business to the level of owning a palatial bungalow and several buses and cars, had been accused in about 65 excise-related cases since 1986. As many as 47 cases against her had been compounded by the Excise Department earlier. Hairunissa had so far been convicted in eleven cases and acquitted in nine. She was sentenced to six years imprisonment in a case in which one person died after drinking liquor from her outlet in 1996. She had come out on bail in April this year. Since then she had been continuing with her illicit liquor operation without let or hindrance. The Opposition alleged that the Ruling Front had encouraged the illicit liqour trade in a bid to foil the ban on arrack imposed by the previous Antony government in 1996.