Confusion was the buzzword for local residents, police and hospitals, as reports of people taking ill after consuming spurious hooch started trickling in on June 18, 2015. For the first days, all authorities were clueless, unable to zero in on the exact cause of the fatalities, which was becoming the worst-ever hooch tragedy witnessed in the city. It was only on June 22, when the name of a dealer from Gujarat cropped up during investigation, that the police could connect the dots.
While the Malwani police teams were struggling to get the exact number of affected families, bootleggers went on with their business as usual. The Mumbai crime branch then took over the investigation and started raiding the slum pockets in belt. In their first raid, the police seized 500 litres of diluted methanol, which was to be sold in the area as hooch. Three local dealers were arrested the second day, but that didn’t deter the slum dwellers from visiting the hooch shops, which sold liquor in pouches for Rs10 to Rs30. On June 21, the police caught two women, taking the number of arrests to seven.
The doctors, meanwhile, kept struggling to save the lives of those who had consumed the liquor. On June 22, the police got clarity on the role of a dealer from Gujarat, which led them to the other revelation – the local residents had taken ill because they consumed industrial methanol, and not the regular hooch made using ethanol.
The toll touched 106, while the doctors saved 40 of those who took ill.
Meanwhile, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis announced a compensation of Rs1 lakh for the kin of victims.
Soon, the police were faced with another challenge. Vikram Deshmane, zonal deputy commissioner of police, directed policemen to get in touch with women living in the slum pockets. “More than 2,000 women from the area have been roped in to help tackle the menace. With leads from the women, the police identified the local bootleggers. The local police stations are keeping track of the situation on ground with the help of these women,” said Deshmane.
Patrolling, too, has been increased, which has helped curb not just the sale of hooch, but also cases of molestation and domestic abuse. “Women are more confident to approach the police. The beat chowky officers have been asked to pay extra attention to slum pockets,” said an officer from the region.
The consistent efforts have ensured 15 bootleggers, including five women, get externed from the city limits.