Denatured spirit mixed with water without following process could have led to Punjab’s worst hooch tragedy
Preliminary probe shows improper dilution of methanol from the spirit and the use of the drums for storing it could have led to fatalities; it is reported that the drums were earlier used for storing pesticideUpdated: Aug 03, 2020 17:51 IST
At least 104 people have died after consuming hooch or country-made illicit liquor in the three Majha districts of Tarn Taran, Amritsar and Gurdaspur since July 29. While 80 deaths have been reported from Tarn Taran city and its adjoining villages, Amritsar’s Muchhal village and Gurdaspur’s Batala town have seen 12 deaths each so far.
WHAT IS HOOCH
Hooch is a spurious alcoholic preparation that can be harmful and fatal. Cases of hooch poisoning are common and have been reported from time to time in different parts of India.
HOW IT’S MADE
Illicit liquor made by adding denatured alcohol is an unauthorised preparation, which is meant for industrial use not human consumption. Though the chemical analysis report of the material seized in raids from Amritsar, Tarn Taran and Gurdaspur districts is awaited, a check by the police and excise department shows denatured spirit used in the paint and hardware industry went into the making of the hooch.
Denatured spirit is ethanol that has additives to make it poisonous, bad-tasting, foul-smelling, or nauseating to discourage recreational consumption. Ethanol is a clear, colourless liquid and the principal ingredient in alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine or brandy. Denatured spirit is also called methylated spirit (alcohol for general use that is unfit for drinking by the addition of 10% methanol). Due to the diversity of industrial use for denatured alcohol, hundreds of additives and denaturing methods have been used. Denatured spirit is also used as a solvent and as fuel for alcohol burners and camping stoves.
A senior police official said the accused were mixing equal amounts of water and denatured spirit to produce illicit liquor. The spirit was being smuggled by them from Patiala and Zirakpur. Normally, the spirit is sent to factories and there is a proper way to prepare liquor by heating it at 150 degrees Celsius. The accused were not following the process and making illicit liquor by sitting in a room.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Preliminary probe suggests that the amount of water used was in lesser quantity than the denatured spirit, which may have proved fatal. Improper dilution of methanol from the spirit and the use of the drums for storing the spirit could have led to fatalities. It is reported that the drums were earlier used for storing pesticide.
CONTENT OF THE SPIRIT
Denatured spirit contains 70% to 99% ethanol and is most often denatured with at least 5% to 10% methanol, besides additives. Police are investigating how the accused were diluting the methanol from denatured spirit. However, the illicit liquor sold at wine shops contains only 50 to 70 degrees of alcohol strength. Most government-approved distilleries use extra neutral alcohol (ENA), the primary raw material for making alcoholic beverages. ENA contains 168 degrees of alcohol strength, but its strength is diluted to 50 to 75 degrees, according to the requirement in distilleries, by heating it at a certain temperature and adding water.
WHY PEOPLE BUY HOOCH
Illicit liquor or countrymade liquor or ‘ghar di kadi sharaab’ is cheaper than liquor sold at shops. Country-made liquor is also made in distilleries. It is considered illicit when the makers sell it without paying excise duty. The poor prefer countrymade liquor as a bottle of two litres of illicit liquor can be bought for Rs 200 to Rs 250. However, the price of the cheapest brand of a liquor bottle (750ml) being sold in shops costs Rs 230. Moreover, one can buy a small glass or a peg for Rs 10 to Rs 30.
HOW IT KILLS
Denatured spirit is unfit for human consumption. Experts suspect less water was used while diluting the strength of denatured spirit. A senior police official said investigation suggested the presence of methanol in the liquor consumed by the victims. Many victims complained of blurring of vision before breathing their last. This is a key symptom of methanol consumption. Ranbir Singh of Rataul village, who became blind after consuming illicit liquor, says he lost his sight within hours.