The death of 97 people in Malwani, who died after consuming hooch on Wednesday night, has once again brought into focus the racket that pervades Mumbai. The need for getting a cheap high — hooch is nearly three times cheaper than country liquor — has forced many economically weaker Mumbaikars to turn to this potent blend, according to experts.
In the pre-Independence era, hooch was generally blended in lepers colonies. Shunned by the public for fear of catching the contagion, the isolation and the stigma attached to these colonies provided a perfect cover for brewing hooch, said experts.
Over a period of time, the brewing of hooch has been outsourced in the bushes and jungles of faraway Mumbai. Areas like Sanjay Gandhi National Park, the forests adjoining Film City and Powai Lake, apart from the vicinity of Thane Creek, Kalyan, Bhiwandi and Kasara are used as centres for blending this illegal liquor, which is then transported to localities like Malwani, Dharavi and Mankhurd, where the bulk of their clientele resides.
“The liquor is brewed in remote areas on the outskirts of the city, and brought into the city in vehicles. The people transporting the hooch are well versed with the city’s roads and know exactly how to evade a police check on any given day. Once the hooch reaches the city, it is disbursed among liquor den runners as per demand,” said Deputy Commissioner of Police (Detection) Dhananjay Kulkarni.
According to the state excise department, the production of illicit liquor takes places in marshy areas in Mumbai and Thane districts. “Water is the main ingredient in producing illicit liquor. And those producing it do it at places where water is available,” said Prasad Surve, Director (Enforcement), Excise.
The department, he said, was unable to bust such production because the location kept changing. “When we go to such marshy areas, local fishermen refuse to lend out their boats to us because they fear criminal elements who produce illegal alcohol,” said Surve.
Officials said the hooch racket was predominant in slums pockets like Malwani, Dharavi and Mankhurd, which are inhabited by daily wage labourers. Many of them are looking a high at a relatively low price, which is something that a potent drink like hooch provides.
Available in plastic pouches for Rs 10 per pouch, it is the drink of choice for the labourers who earn Rs 200 to Rs 300 on a daily wage basis, and have to sustain all their expenses within that amount. Even the smallest bottle of country-made liquor sells for Rs 40, making hooch all the more affordable to them.
“Alcohol addiction has been observed to be especially heavy among the labour class, and hooch is the only form of alcohol that they can afford. Hooch is served in shanties, called liquor dens or ‘addas’ in various lanes of the slums, and these dens are often run by women, referred to as ‘aunty’ or ‘akka’ in the area. Over the years, ‘aunty ka adda’ became the common slang for an illegal liquor den,” said retired Assistant Commissioner of Police Jaywant Hargude, who had earlier served as senior police inspector at the Malwani police station.