Mumbai hooch deaths: Police, govt, excise dept learnt nothing from a similar tragedy in 2004

Eleven years after a hooch tragedy took the lives of 107 people in Mumbai, the police and excise department seem to have not learnt a thing.

Vishwas Waghmode June 23, 2015 18:34:30 IST
Mumbai hooch deaths: Police, govt, excise dept learnt nothing from a similar tragedy in 2004

Mumbai: Eleven years after a hooch tragedy took the lives of 107 people in Mumbai, the police and excise department seem to have not learnt a thing. The evidence of the same stares back at us in the form of 102 deaths due to yet another hooch tragedy in Malvani in Mumbai's suburbs.

The deaths were caused due to the consumption of spurious alcohol, primarily by residents of the Lakshmi Nagar slum area in Malad.  There are 46 more people struggling for their lives in hospitals, eight of them are critical.

Some people who have been arrested have been remanded in police custody.

This is the worst hooch tragedy in the city since December 2004 when 107 people lost their lives due to consumption of spurious liquor in Vikhroli and Chinchpokali, say officials from the state excise department.

While the police and excise officials are awaiting the forensic lab report, they say that the chemical substance, methanol, in the hooch is responsible for the deaths.

“Normally, this doesn't happen. The methanol must have been used by mistake. Or it could be result of their internal business rivalry. To prevent such incidents, we need to regulate the sale of methanol,” said SD Shinde, state excise commissioner adding that sale of methanol is not regulated in Maharashtra at present and does not come under the purview of the excise department.

Mumbai hooch deaths Police govt excise dept learnt nothing from a similar tragedy in 2004

Image courtesy: PTI

“We will soon be writing to the union government through the state government demanding the classification of methanol as a poison. So that its sale can be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That in turn will make sure they are screened stringently during transportation,” Shinde added.

Interestingly, a similar recommendation was made immediately after the 2004 tragedy. Anil Deshmukh, the former state excise minister and Nationalist Congress Party leader (NCP) had said following the 2004 incident, that a high-powered committee will be set up by the then state government to look into the the sale of country liquor and recommend ways to deal with such incidents in future.

“The committee had come up with various recommendations to prevent such tragedies in future. Amongst them was the classification of methanol as a ‘poisonous substance’ by the Centre. It also suggested conducting joint raids by police and excise officials to curb the illicit liquor trade in the state. But, it seems nothing has happened over the past ten years. Apart from regulation of the sale and manufacture of methanol, increasing the joint raids by police and excise can only deter the bootleggers and prevent such tragedies. But, it seems that these officials were in connivance with the bootleggers,” Deshmukh told Firstpost.

“Also, the people are turning to hooch due to the higher excise duty on country made liquor. The excise duty has been increased by state government to get more revenue. Now, there is marginal difference in prices between country liquor and foreign made liquor. So, people will obviously go for hooch that is cheaper and affordable to them,” he added.

A retired bureaucrat, who worked as state excise commissioner, said that the proposal sent by the state government to Union seeking classification of methanol as a poisons substance was put in cold storage following the strong opposition from the petroleum industry. “The industry may oppose the proposal now also. But, the regulating the methanol is the not the solution. Malvani incident is complete failure of law and order and excise department. The destructive action should be taken after seizing the materials during the raids,” he said.

Deshmukh fears that the death toll in the Malvani tragedy will go up.  “People who consume spurious liquor should be ideally treated within two hours of drinking it. In this case, people got treated ten to twelve afters consuming the alcohol. The delay is most likely take a few more lives,” the bureaucrat said.

While the police and excise officials claim that raids were conducted in Malvani and other areas of the city and action was taken against bootleggers, the people arrested usually get out on bail within two to three days. They resume their business soon. “In past-one-and-half year, 117 raids have been conducted in Malad and nearby areas in suburban Mumbai. Several people have been arrested but they have been let off on bail. We had also filed the case earlier against one of the accused in this case. After getting the bail, they again start their businesses in couple of days,” said a senior excise official.

Officials from the Mumbai Police said it’s true that the there was a syndicate and the local police were in connivance with these bootleggers. “The families have alleged that the money was paid to the local police. But, they have not named anyone so far. Still, we are investigating into that as well and if found, necessary action will be taken,” said a senior IPS officer adding that the police is also looking out at two other states outside Maharshtra based on their inputs in connection with the Malvani tragedy.

Mumbai police is now considering invoking the section 302 of Indian Penal Code - which can earn an accused death penalty on charges of murder -  in the case as death toll continues to rise. “We haven’t yet decided on it but we may invoke the section,” said Atulchandra Kulkarni, Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime).

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