Mumbai: Drone, boats to monitor illegal liquor brewing in coastal areas, mangrove belts
The state excise department now has an eye in the sky in the form of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to aid its crackdown against illicit hooch manufacturers. The department has been given a drone and boats to patrol coastal areas and mangrove belts, where this liquor is brewed illegally. The pilot project, which has been launched from Thane district, may soon be replicated across Maharashtra, including Mumbai, Raigad and Palghar.
Kantilal Umap, commissioner, State Excise, Maharashtra, said that the state excise staff in Thane district had been given a drone, seven mechanised boats and four paddle boats through the District Planning Committee’s funds (DPC). This equipment cost around ₹1.25 crore. “We have requested for this to happen in Palghar as well. We are also eager to get this modern equipment for use in the Mumbai suburban district,” he added.
Hooch is brewed largely in coastal areas, mangrove belts, marshy lands and areas with dense vegetation and forests, which law-enforcing authorities found difficult to access. The drums containing the brew are often buried for fermentation on the banks of water bodies like rivers and creeks, especially during the monsoons.
“We lacked our own boats to crackdown on illegally-brewed liquor. For a raid, we had to rent boats from local residents who may be afraid of or even hand-in-glove with these bootleggers. They may refuse to co-operate or even leak out information. Having our own fleet of boats will help us conduct raids effectively,” said Usha Verma, director, vigilance and enforcement, State Excise.
The department is also undertaking a special drive against hooch and duty-evaded liquor from other states from 5 September to 8 October.
Nilesh Sangade, superintendent, State Excise, Thane, said after they received the drone and boats a month ago, they used drones to reconnoitre areas and check where liquor was being brewed illegally and followed it up by raids using boats. Around 12 such raids had been conducted in a fortnight. Some areas in Thane where hooch is produced are the creeks, Kariwali, Ulhasnagar and Dombivali.
Between 1 April and 31 August, state excise officials have filed 10,195 cases across the state for production, sale and transport of illicit liquor, arrested 4,377 people and seized liquor and vehicles worth ₹21.60 crore.
Hooch, or tharra, khopdi, and gavthi daaru as it is referred to, is often laced with dangerous chemicals like methyl alcohol to make it more potent and give the drinkers a stronger ‘kick.’ However, despite the obvious risks to life and health, this is often consumed by the poor and working-class, as it is sold at rates as cheap as ₹10 per pouch or glass, as against country liquor, which is priced at around ₹50 per bottle.
In 2015, over 100 people lost their lives after consuming hooch at Malvani. Similarly, this illicit alcohol also caused the deaths of around 90 people in Vikhroli in 2004 and 101 people at Tardeo in 1991.
An alcohol tragedy at Khopoli in the 1970s led to the state government formulating the country liquor scheme in 1973 to make good quality liquor available to the working class at cheap rates.
The bootlegger mafia is said to have been born after the decision of the Morarji Desai government in the Bombay Province to impose prohibition in 1952. One of the prominent liquor mafias of Mumbai was the dreaded underworld don Varadarajan Mudaliar, who manufactured the brew in areas like Dharavi and supplied it across the city.
Hooch manufacturing process
Low-quality black jaggery, navasagar or yeast, peels of citrus fruits like oranges and sweet lime are mixed with water and kept for a few days in a barrel. This barrel is submerged in water in shallow creeks, nallahs and rivulets for a few days to aid fermentation.
Some bootleggers even add organic waste, lizards, rodents, leather chappals, as this is supposed to make the brew stronger.
After the brew ferments, some ‘masala’ is added to this wash, and it is put on a wood-fired ‘bhatti.’ A pipe collects the condensed steam.
This liquor has around 16 to 17% alcohol content, and chemicals like ethanol and methanol are added to it for a stronger ‘kick.’ However, excess infusion of methanol may lead to fatal consequences like the loss of vision and even death.