The Maharashtra government has reversed a ban it had imposed on the supply and sale of toddy in the financial capital. Last October, the Devendra Fadnavis government had enforced the ban, following an Excise department’s survey, which had found that one in five toddy depots in Mumbai had been selling toddy laced with deadly chemicals. A deadly cocktail of chloral hydrate and alprazolam was being served in the name of toddy in Mumbai and other urban belts, including Thane, Pune, Solapur and Nanded, among others, this survey had found.
While the adulterators were found to have mixed the chemicals to give sedative or muscle-relaxing effect to the consumers, senior government sources said the deadly cocktail can result in withdrawal symptoms among the addicts. In neighbouring Telangana where a similar racket was previously unearthed, some deaths were also reported owing to the adulteration. Startled by the revelation, the Fadnavis government had banned toddy sales in non-toddy growing areas. At that time, state’s Excise Minister Chandrasekhar Bavankule said the government’s new policy was to permit toddy shops only in talukas where toddy could be tapped.
Toddy trees are primarily found in the Sindhurdurg, Ratnagiri, and Palghar districts in the Konkan belt. There are also some toddy growing taluks in Western Maharashtra’s Sangli, Solapur, Pune and Marathwada’s Nanded. The new policy stated that one toddy shop would be permitted for every 1,000 mature toddy trees.
Before the prohibition policy was introduced, there were 1,250 toddy shops across the state, including about 250 in Mumbai. About 60 per cent of the toddy depots across the state, including all of them in Mumbai, were shut down, following the ban. While admitting to the pressure being imposed by the toddy lobby to overturn the decision, Bavankule had then said, “We cannot factor in revenues when lives of people are being risked.” But ten months later, the government has overturned the ban for Mumbai and Thane.
On August 21, following Bavankule’s approval, the state’s Excise department issued revised orders, making a special dispensation for Mumbai and Thane. “The 1,000 trees condition is being relaxed for Mumbai (island city), Mumbai (suburbs) and Thane as a special case. Toddy growers in adjoining Palghar and Raigad districts,” states the government resolution.
Monetarily speaking, toddy sales contribute to just Rs 45 crore out of the Excise department’s total income of over Rs 13,000 crore. But sources said there had been mounting pressure from toddy growers from Palghar and Raigad districts to allow sales in Mumbai and Thane, which continue to have a clientele for the desi liquor.
Bavankule remained unavailable for comment. But Valsa Nair Singh, Principal Secretary, Excise, said, “The relaxation had been extended as a measure to check the supply of spurious or adulterated liquor, which has continued despite the prohibition.”
While the senior bureaucrat said it had been made mandatory for toddy licence holders in Mumbai and Thane to produce evidence that the toddy being supplied had been tapped from toddy growing trees in Palghar and Raigad. Also each licence holder will have to show availability of 1000 mature trees in these district to procure the licence, which would be auctioned under prevalent norms. Further, the government has involved the district collector offices and the Excise Commissioner’s office to check supply of adulterated toddy. Some other senior government sources however remained wary that the relaxation would also bolster the supply of chemical-laced toddy.
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