Hooch network runs deep, but not hidden

'High' price: Methyl alcohol is main culprit; leads to respiratory failure

Hooch network runs deep, but not hidden

The Malvani hooch tragedy is now one of the deadliest incidents in India's commercial capital, but it is not fully clandestine, and the hooch network runs deep.

According to policemen and forensic experts, hooch has killed more than 2,000 people in the country over the past four decades, and the Mumbai incident once again reflects the need to enforce the ban on illicit liquor.

It is known by names like Moonshine, Khopadi, Ladda, Dalda, Bewada and French Polish, among others, and is generally methyl alcohol-based. Tragedies occur when the methyl alcohol percentage goes up. 

“People who do not have sound financial condition go for it because it is cheap,” said Shirish Inamdar, former Additional Deputy Commissioner of the State Intelligence Department, who is currently a faculty at the Pune-based Maharashtra Intelligence Academy.

“Data across the country reveals that spurious liquor targets mainly the lower socio-economic strata, owing to their inability to afford liquor from licensed shops,” pointed out Dr Anil Aggrawal, a professor of forensic medicine at the New Delhi-based Maulana Azad Medical College.

According to Inamdar, hooch is brewed in Mumbai in secluded places like the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, the creek that passes through Vasai, Thane and Vashi, the lepers' colony and big slums. 

“Generally, it is black jaggery mixed with Navsagar or ammonium chloride. It is buried in creeks or moist places in drums for a fortnight. Then, it is boiled to extract the vapour, which is pure hooch. This is mixed with chemicals to give the drinker a kick,” said Inamdar, who had in the past headed the Social Service Branch of the Mumbai Police.  

“Methyl alcohol is one of the products of the brewing process. Sometimes, it is added to adulterate the brew and make it stronger,” said Aggrawal.

“In most hooch tragedies, methyl alcohol or methanol has been found to be the chief adulterant. The main reasons for its use as adulterant are its similarity in appearance and taste to ethyl alcohol, and easy availability,” said Aggrawal, who has also taught in Japan and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, the US. 

“In industries, it is used as an antifreeze, solvent, fuel and ethanol denaturant. Methyl alcohol's toxicity  manifests as permanent blindness or ultimately death due to respiratory failure,” he added.

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