In light of the death of 97 people after they consumed spurious liquor in Malwani earlier this week, the Maharashtra state excise department will write to the Central government to classify methanol as a ‘poisonous substance’ so as to regulate its sale. The preliminary forensic test report of the samples taken in the Malwani case has indicated that methanol was added to the country-made liquor to increase its potency.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Excise Commissioner S D Shinde said, “Ethanol (spirit) is usually mixed with country-made liquor by bootleggers to increase its strength. Normally, 20 litres of country-made liquor is diluted with the same amount of water and around one or two litres of ethanol is added to it. While ethanol is a spirit, methanol is a petroleum byproduct. We, therefore, will write to the state government, which will, in turn, write to the Centre to classify methanol as a poison,” Shinde said.
“Once this is done, its sale chemical will get regulated and even the FDA will come into play, thereby adding to the layers of checking in its transport,” he added.
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Since January 2014, the department has made out 117 cases of sale of illicit liquor till now in the Malwani area alone.
It has also carried out raids in Mumbai’s satellite towns and seized substantial quantity of illicit liquor.
According to sources, owing to the heavy duty on ethanol, it is bought by bootleggers from black-marketers, who mainly operate out of highway dhabas or unsuspecting petrol pump outlets in the outskirts of the city. “A duty of Rs 125 is levied on 1 litre of ethanol to alcohol manufacturing units, while only 30 paise duty is imposed if it is used for any other industrial purpose. The only difference is that the ones used by other industries are de-naturalised before transport by our officials,” said Shinde. Explaining the modus operandi, an officer said, “While the tankers ferrying spirits are sealed, the drivers in connivance with bootleggers stop at a designated spot and ethanol is drawn out from the tanker using a small pipe. For a few 100 litres of ethanol, the driver gets over Rs 500.”
One angle the agency suspects is that the tragedy could be an outcome of a business rivalry.
“Generally, methanol is not added by bootleggers, especially after the 2004 Vikhroli incident. One of the possibilities could be that methanol was deliberately given by the supplier to cause trouble,” said a source.