Deadly chemicals mixed with toddy across Maharashtra, reveals excise department survey

Shocked by the findings, government bans sale in areas that do not grow trees that yield toddy.

Written by Sandeep A Ashar | Mumbai | Updated: October 13, 2016 3:08:33 am

ABOUT ONE in five toddy depots are selling a deadly cocktail of chemicals in the name of toddy in Maharashtra’s urban belt, a survey by Maharashtra government’s excise department has found.

The survey found massive quantities of chemicals such as chloral hydrate and alprazolam in toddy sold by depots in urban areas such as Mumbai, Pune, Solapur, and Nanded, among others.

Startled by the revelation, the Maharashtra government has decided to ban toddy sales in areas that do not grow toddy.

State Excise Minister Chandrasekhar Bawankule told The Indian Express that the government will ban the supply and sale of toddy in areas that do not grow toddy. “A policy for this prohibition will soon be brought before the state cabinet. It is necessary to take this step to prevent the sale of adulterated toddy in the state, which was found to be rampant,” he said.

A two-day drive conducted by the department starting September 24 unearthed the net of adulteration. “We provided a special kit to our inspector for detecting adulterated toddy. The findings were startling,” said Excise Commissioner V Radha.

One in every five toddy depots in the financial capital was found selling toddy laced with the deadly chemicals. A similar trend was observed in Pune, Solapur, Nanded, and other cities.

While the adulterators mixed the chemicals to give sedative or muscle-relaxing effect to the consumers, senior department officials said that the deadly cocktail can result in withdrawal symptoms among addicts. In neighbouring Telangana where a similar racket was previously unearthed, some deaths were also reported owing to the adulteration.

Bawankule said the government’s new policy will be to permit liquor shops only in talukas where toddy can be tapped.

Toddy trees are primarily found in the Sindhurdurg, Ratnagiri, and Palghar districts in the Konkan belt. There are also some toddy-growing talukas in Western Maharashtra’s Sangli, Solapur, Pune, and Marathwada’s Nanded.

The existing policy permits toddy tappers from a particular taluka to open up shops in other areas in the district. Bawankule said the new policy will prohibit this. “They will have to remain within the same taluka to ensure that only natural toddy is served,” the minister said. In Mumbai, where there is no toddy cultivation, the sale of toddy will now be virtually banned. Out of 1,250 toddy shops across the state, about 250 exist in Mumbai. They will now be shut down, said officials. Under the new policy, one toddy shop will be permitted for 1,000 toddy trees, said Bawankule.

The department estimates the new prohibition will result in 65-70 per cent of toddy depots across the state shutting down. Monetarily speaking, the state’s income from toddy sales will drop sharply — from the present Rs 45 crore to Rs 10 crore. “We cannot factor in revenues when lives of people are being risked,” Bawankule said. “Lives of people are far more valuable,” added V Radha. The minister said the department’s crackdown on duty evaders in the past couple of months had resulted in an 8 per cent jump in revenue.

An earlier attempt for a similar prohibition of toddy sales had been made in 2003-04, but sources said the then Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, who hails from Solapur, had rejected the plan following objections raised by toddy tappers.

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