MUMBAI: The police investigation into the hooch tragedy that killed 103 people in Malad has opened a can of worms, revealing the illegal countrymade liquor business in Mumbai. The probe shows that the illegal liquor business has spread its tentacles across in 51 areas in Mumbai with support from Gujarat-based methanol mafias. Several samples tested at the Mumbai Forensic Laboratory shows that the hooch contains methanol, which is poison for humans. Methanol is mixed with hooch to add an “extra kick” to consumers.
Police got a prize catch when they arrested Mukesh Patel, a prominent methanol supplier from Gujarat, in connection with the Malad tragedy. Based on information provided by Patel, police identified 51 spots as illegal liquor dens, mainly in slum pockets with heavily wooded tracts. Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivli, Film City in Goregaon, Antop Hill, Sewree and Mahim are the largest illegal liquor hubs.
A police officer admitted that their negligence was also responsible for the methanol menace. “Since the last couple of years we concentrated on containing the supply of narcotic drug mephedrone, popularly known as meow meow, and ignored the supply of methanol,” he said.
Methanol is allowed to be added in very small quantities in legal alcohol. Hooch producers consider methanol the best medium to earn more profit with less investment. A mixture of methanol and water with some other ingredients makes the hooch deadly and cheap.
The working class with a monthly income of less than Rs 10,000 is the major customer base of the cheap liquor, as it is available for Rs 20 per glass and gives a strong high. Consumers didn’t realise it was spurious as it worked as a silent killer. The deadly methanol mixture came to light only after the Malad tragedy. Forensic testing revealed that the Malad hooch was pure methanol—the manufacturers forgot to add water to it.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (Detection) Dhananjay Kulkarni says that police have planned a joint operation with the Excise Department to eliminate the illegal liquor selling points. “As the locations have been identified, we are going to run a massive campaign to demolish them. We have taken the issue seriously,” he said.
However, social activists doubt the police’s efficiency in dealing with the social problem. K Bhagwan, an activist from Sewree, said that the illegal liquor business has been running under the police’s nose for a decade. “I have been watching the hooch-making in my area for a couple of years. Police occasionally raid the production units, which resume three to four days later when the accused come out on bail,” he said.
State Excise Minister Eknath Khadse said that the government is “thinking of applying the stringent Maharashtra Prevention of Dangerous Activities (MPDA) Act to those caught for selling illegal liquor. It has a provision of 10 years rigorous imprisonment if found guilty”.