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‘Denatured spirit most likely culprit behind killer brew’

DEADLY SHIFT: Excise officials say they have been keeping an extra vigil on stocks of extra neutral alcohol, prompting bootleggers to opt for denatured spirit
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | By Gurpreet Singh Nibber and Anil Kumar
UPDATED ON AUG 03, 2020 11:41 PM IST

Due to curbs during the lockdown and extra vigil on stocks of extra neutral alcohol (ENA), bootleggers seems to have opted for denatured spirit which led to the recent hooch tragedy, excise officials say. The death toll in the hooch tragedy that unfolded last Thursday has gone up to 110.

According to an excise official, denatured spirit contains 70-99% ethanol and most often denatured with at least 5-10% methanol and additives. Police said it was still being investigated how the bootleggers were diluting the methanol from the denatured spirit. The liquor available in shops contains only 50-70% of alcohol.

Excise officials say despite their best efforts to check smuggling of extra neutral alcohol (ENA), pilferage in small quantity does take place.

A top official in the excise department said as the operations of the distilleries came to halt during the lockdown, bootleggers were short of raw material and they seem to have opted for denatured spirit to fill the gap. “Due to fall in quantity of ENA pilferage, bootleggers started using denatured spirit which is used in paint industry and is poisonous,” said an excise department officer who didn’t want to be quoted. The official, however, refused to divulge more saying police investigations were on.

There are 14 distilleries in Punjab which produce extra neutral alcohol and ethanol and sell it to liquor manufacturers and petroleum companies.

Financial commissioner taxation A Venu Prasad accepted that the administration stepped up the vigil on distilleries and denatured spirit could have led to deaths.

“The operations at the distilleries are air tight, our excise inspectors locks every facility in the evening daily and opens the next morning. Even the owners and top managers are not allowed to go inside without permission,” said an officer in the excise department.

RECORD SOUGHT FROM DISTILLERIES

To rule out possibility of pilferage of ENA from distilleries, the state excise department has summoned record of the two previous months. “We want to make sure that there is no foul play at the level of distilleries,” said an officer.

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