The recommendations of a committee set up in 1992 to prevent methanol from being misused as an intoxicant leading to deaths remain on paper.
The committee, formed to inquire into the deaths of 93 people in a hooch tragedy, had in 1992 recommended several measures to prevent illegal possession of methanol, which has several industrial uses. Besides laws to discourage unauthorised storage of methanol, it recommended addition of a bitter substance to make it undrinkable. In all, the committee had made 17 recommendations to the state government.
The committee was formed after 254 people were hospitalised and 93 died after they consumed country liquor at an outlet in Tardeo on December 31, 1991. Headed by the then Additional Inspector General of Police P R Parthasarthy, the committee comprised Dr B N Mattoo, former director of the Kalina Forensic Sciences Laboratory; Dr B D Hosangadi, who headed the chemistry department of Bombay University, the city and suburban collectors; the then joint commissioner of the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) and the then joint commissioner of State Excise.
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It had recommended strong deterrents for illegal possession and storage of methanol. The report suggested laws to be amended to modify the quantum of punishment. The committee also recommended rules to prevent illegal stocking of methanol and ethyl alcohol.
Among the suggestions was that all containers in which methanol is sold prominently display the skull and crossbones sign signifying it is a poisonous substance. These containers were also to be painted in a distinctive colour.
Parthasarthy’s report added that methanol, indistinguishable from ethyl alcohol, “needs to be made undrinkable by addition of bitter and/or foul smelling substance. In addition, a distinctive colour or ambiguous identification needs to be added,” the report reads. Adding a colour to distinguish methanol is usual practice across countries.
Shamsunder Shinde, the current State Excise Commissioner, said the Parthasarthy Committee Report was sent to the home department and the FDA. “Those departments then sent the report to the central government. In light of the present tragedy, its recommendations will be hopefully be implemented,” he said.
Parthasarthy, who lives in Bengaluru, said no action had been taken on his report by the time he retired in 1993. He said addition of a bitter substance to methyl alcohol was one of the recommendations which was met with objections from some manufacturers. “The report met with objections from manufacturers of methanol, who feared sale would be affected. But we spoke to scientists and realised those fears were unfounded. Nobody took serious note of the report,” Parthasarthy said.
He declined to comment on the report’s implementation by the current state government.
The panel had also said laws pertaining to methanol need to be streamlined “for effective control.” Methyl alcohol comes under the purview of the Explosives Act (1934), the Petroleum Act (1884), the Petroleum Rules (1983), the Poisons Act (1919) and the Maharashtra Poison Rules (1972).
The committee also noted that illicit liquor businesses thrive in areas not serviced by government-owned liquor shops, and suggested that the distribution network of government-owned stores be widened.