Hooch tragedies repeat but no lessons learnt

It would be an understatement to term it as tragic, as families dependent on daily wages have lost their breadwinners, children, their parents and entire communities have been shattered.
Mass cremation of Kallakurichi hooch tragedy victims at Karunapuram, in Kallakurichi.
Mass cremation of Kallakurichi hooch tragedy victims at Karunapuram, in Kallakurichi. Photo | Express

About a year after 22 people lost their lives consuming hooch spiked with poisonous methanol in Tamil Nadu, another 56 people have died in the state from imbibing a similarly toxic brew. It would be an understatement to term the events of the past week as tragic, as families dependent on daily wages have lost their breadwinners, children, their parents and entire communities have been shattered. While the state government has announced solatium for the kin of deceased and financial aid for children who lost their parents, this is only the barest minimum it can do having grossly failed to fulfil its duty to control the movement of methanol and the brewing and sale of illicit liquor.

This failure is starker given last year’s tragedy unfolded just 160 km away from Kallakurichi district, which was affected this past week. The government transferred out the district’s collector and suspended the superintendent of police, both of whom initially denied deaths were due to hooch. Action has also been taken against cops in the prohibition and enforcement wing.

For the families, who have lost loved ones, however, this is poor solace. Locals have said the hooch was openly sold near the local police station; police were clearly complicit. Opposition parties have alleged that the illegal business also had political backers, a charge that needs to be investigated and acted upon transparently. If the DMK government does not take meaningful action that goes to the root of the problem - apathy and corruption - the loss of public faith will be near impossible to recover.

In 2008, nearly 180 people from TN and Karnataka died after consuming spurious alcohol. Till 2023, TN had not seen hooch deaths since. While the usual suspects in TN have again raised the call for prohibition, what is needed is enforcement of existing laws, raising awareness of the risks of hooch and reform of the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation.

The state-run Tasmac controls liquor sales in TN and is a revenue-spinner. However, state control of alcohol, ostensibly for the welfare of the public, is only meaningful if products are accessible to the people. Yet, people have died consuming illicit liquor purchased for `60 despite a Tasmac outlet being less than a kilometre away as even the cheapest licit liquor costs 2.5 times as much.

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