A few days before spurious liquor was sold to nearly 200 people as country liquor in the slums of Malvani in June, local distributors had been warned by their suppliers that they would be selling fatal chemical methanol and not ethanol, used in the manufacture of liquor. The warning went unheeded and 106 people lost their lives over the next few weeks while 75 were rendered handicapped.
This fact, among others, have been mentioned in the Mumbai Police Crime Branch’s mammoth chargesheet filed on Thursday afternoon in a magistrate court after a four-month investigation. A total of 16 people have been named as accused in the chargesheet, two of whom are absconding.
Statements of 577 witnesses are there in the chargesheet, which runs into 13,760 pages. The accused have been charged with murder, attempted murder, culpable homicide not amounting to murder, causing hurt by dangerous means, causing hurt by poison, and criminal conspiracy under the Indian Penal Code, apart from sections under the Bombay Prohibition Act.
According to the chargesheet, arrested accused Mansoor Khan, Salim Shaikh, Francis D’Mello and Gautam Harde had contacted Ahmedabad-based bootleggers Subhash Giri and Prakashbhai Patel in June. Crime Branch officers said that Khan and his partners were on the search for different sources for procuring ethanol after falling short.
The two parties met in Baroda on June 5 to reach an agreement for supply and purchase. “The next day, Giri and Patel stole three drums of a certain chemical from a tanker parked at a highway restaurant in Sanchore, Rajasthan,” a Crime Branch officer said.
He added that the next day, Khan opened one of the drums and tasted the liquid inside it. “He dipped his finger inside and was satisfied that it tasted like ethanol,” the officer said.
The drums reached Mumbai on June 11, where Harde and Shaikh mixed the chemical with water and doubled the quantity, the police said. After adding cardamom for taste, the contents of the drums were passed on to Raju Pascar, Donald Patel, Mamta Rathod, Agnes Gracy and Simran Sayyed, who operated liquor dens all over Malvani.
The chargesheet states that the liquor was sold in pouches on the night on June 17, but in his recorded statement, Giri has said that only two days before the tragedy, he told Khan that the drum they had stolen contained methanol instead of ethanol. “Giri realised this after finding out that the tanker he had stolen from was transporting methanol. But Khan and the other accused in Mumbai did not do anything about it,” the officer said, adding that Khan could not differentiate between methanol and ethanol initially because they taste the same.
The chargesheet also mentions another witness who had stopped his association with Khan a month before the tragedy after finding out that the latter had begun lacing liquor with chemicals. “The witness told Khan that the chemicals would make the consumers ill. He parted ways with Khan a few months before June,” said an officer part of the probe.
The state government has roped in senior counsel Pradip Gharat to serve as a special public prosecutor in the case. He said that medical documents of the deceased and injured made up a large part of the chargesheet, in addition to statements of the survivors and Malvani residents, who make up most of the other witnesses.