Malwani tragedy: One year on, cops remain on ‘high’ alert

  • Farhan Shaikh and Manish K Pathak, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Jun 16, 2016 09:47 IST
Over the past one year, the police have conducted over 150 raids around the slums of Rathodi, Kharodi and Laxmi Nagar, the areas that recorded maximum casualties. (HT FILE)

Until a year ago, Malwani, with its thick mangrove cover and slums in the vicinity, seemed a perfect location for operation of bootleggers in the city. While slum dwellers helped them smuggle out the hooch, a cheap substitute for country liquor, mangroves gave them the much-needed cover from the police. But the death of 106 of their local residents after consuming a toxic concoction of methanol and water sold to them as hooch on June 18, 2015 changed the scenario, according to the local residents, for the better.

Within 10 days of the incident, the Malwani police registered 71 cases and arrested 73 people, including 27 women, who sold hooch in the area. Soon, a team of 25 policemen, including senior inspector Milind Khetle and inspector Mahesh Thakur, began the first reconnaissance operation in the infamous Dharavli village. They found distilleries on the outskirts of the village, eight kilometres away from the police station.

Over the past one year, the police have conducted over 150 raids around the slums of Rathodi, Kharodi and Laxmi Nagar, the areas that recorded maximum casualties. So far, the police have registered 127 cases and arrested 99 men and 45 women hooch sellers from the areas under sections of the Maharashtra Prohibition Act and Indian Penal Code for causing hurt by means of poison with intent to commit an offence, including the 22 cases and 32 arrests this year.

The success didn’t come easy. For their first recce, the police team, dressed in three-fourth pants and without footwear, had to wade through a mud rivulet, with the support of sticks made of tree branches. After almost an hour-long trek through the thick mangrove cover, they reached the base, where hooch was prepared. Constable Virendra Lokhande, almost drowned in the deep waters, but was saved by fellow constable Kailash Patil in time. But the efforts weren’t in vain – the team found the chemicals and raw material used to brew hooch, along with another distillery in the mangroves. Three tribesmen from Dharavli were arrested in March around holi celebrations. They led the police to the raw material supplier in Versova.

“To avoid being spotted, the men use the sea route between the Dharavli mangroves and Versova to bring in the raw material. The brewed hooch is transported from Malwani slums to other locations in neighbouring areas,” said Thakur.

A senior officer said the raids have been intensified now, as the sale of hooch is on the rise during the monsoon. “Slum dwellers take up odd jobs. While they consume country liquor through the year, they need something with stronger effect through the rains. Hooch, which has higher amounts of ethanol, gives them the desired effect,” said a senior officer.

Last year, the dealers used methanol thinking it will be stronger than ethanol, the usual ingredient in hooch, which led to casualties.

Last week, the police conducted their third raid on the mangroves. Although the workers fled, the police found a metal drum used for boiling and storing hooch. It took them four hours to get the drum, with a capacity of 1,000 litres, out of the mangroves.

When HT visited Malwani slums to check the effect of police’s measures, we found neither methanol nor hooch was available in the area. Those addicted to drinking have moved to licensed country liquor.

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