Dry and high

It may be the only state in the country to have prohibition laws in force — a ‘tribute’ to Mahatma Gandhi...

Written by Kamalsaiyed | Ahmedabad/vadodara/surat | Published:July 11, 2009 2:47 am

It may be the only state in the country to have prohibition laws in force — a ‘tribute’ to Mahatma Gandhi — but liquor is not only consumed,it is brewed blatantly,with the cops looking the other way until something terrible happens. Such as this week’s tragedy in Ahmedabad,where the death toll crossed the 100 mark on Friday.

Manish Makwana,a labourer in Ahmedabad,had to only walk up to his friendly neighbourhood bootlegger for his Rs-10 potli,which is how locally brewed liquor packed in plastic bags is known.

Post the hooch tragedy,the police rounded up 520 bootleggers in Ahmedabad city alone and around 69 from Ahmedabad rural area. The statewide raids,meanwhile,continue,with 49 women bootleggers arrested from Valsad,a south Gujarat district,alone. This is just a pointer to how many functioned out a hitch till the tragedy struck.

Police action is routinely detention,mostly before elections or festivals,with bootleggers later released. The big time names are arrested under the PASA (Prevention of Anti Social Activities) Act,but there is no serious deterrence to stop brewing and trafficking.

Brewed by the womenfolk,the men do the selling. “One litre of unadulterated hooch is mixed with about 5 litre water and sold for Rs 40 a litre. Potlis,or 250-ml pouches of this alcohol is available for just Rs 10,” said a bootlegger from Ahmedabad’s Charranagar area.

Those who are involved in the business admitted that following the high demand of country-made liquor in urban areas,the original brew,which comes from the city suburbs,is mixed with any substance that works as stimulus. And this includes expired medicines,welding rods,battery acid,urea,wood varnish and even medicines meant for cattle.

“There was a time when country-made liquor was considered safe and the bhatthis (breweries) were supplying quality liquor. But realising the profits involved in the urban areas,a parallel market was created in the cities as well. The city bootlegger buys the consignment from his rural counterpart and then dilutes it in bulk by adding spurious substances including disposed medicines and whatever rubbish which can give kick,” said a bootlegger,on condition of anonymity,who has been sent to prison several times in Vadodara city.

In south Gujarat,the illicit liquor business in the villagers is a small-scale industry. The salty coastline makes agriculture difficult and with no local employment,liquor brewing is the easiest way to

earn money.

Raja Patel,ex-sarpanch and a resident of Bhimpore village in Surat’s coastal area,admits,“Children are taught how to brew liquor as it is a simple process,carried out on the banks of rivers away from village so that police cannot find them. It is then supplied on the highway villages.”

The manufacturing of illicit liquor is well-developed in the villages situated on the coastal areas in south Gujarat. Many youths and women in these villages are addicted to the consumption of these liquors. So much so that in some south Gujarat villages,newer brands are first tried on stray dogs and cats to check the potency.

The poisonous potion

Recipe: Decomposed jaggery,salt cubes (called navsagar),alum,yeast and black pepper are mixed with water in clay or plastic containers. The mixture is allowed to ferment for one to two days in a cool place before boiling it in an airtight container. After cooling,the steam is collected in liquid form in small bottles through a nozzle. Bootleggers often flavour this hooch with cardamom,aniseed,cumin seeds and leaves of mahuda trees.

How it can become lethal: A chemistry professor based in Bharuch explained there are two ways the brew could become deadly. One is that while brewing the temperature is not maintained which leads to extra formation of methanol and the other way is when bootleggers use methanol as an additive to give an extra “kick” instead of using ethanol which is a safer option. “During the distillation process once the temperature reaches to 61 to 65 degrees Celsius,methyl alcohol gets separated from the brew. Further when the temperature rises to 78 degrees, the ethyl alcohol gets separated which can be used for liquor. However,those who are into this business are neither scientists nor professional brewers and they often fail to maintain the temperature. As a result,when the final brew has more methyl alcohol it first affects the eyesight of the consumer and later affects the liver,” said Ramesh Chandra Gandhi,a retired chemistry professor. Other potential killers are additives. “Some mix ammonium chloride,ethyl acetate and other chemicals to increase the potency,” said a Kagdapith-based bootlegger in Ahmedabad.

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