Indian state brings the ‘death penalty’ hammer down on illicit liquor

By Ankush Chibber

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: States and territories of india

Indian state brings the ‘death penalty’ hammer down on illicit liquor
The western state of Gujarat has passed one of the most stringent laws in India against illicit liquor, as the death toll from consumption of the toxic ‘hooch’ in the eastern state of West Bengal reaches 170.

A spokesman at the office of the governor of Gujarat, told FoodNavigator-Asia: “The Bombay Prohibition [Gujarat Amendment] Bill of 2009 has been finally given assent by the governor after initial objections..”

Under the bill, any person found manufacturing, stocking or transporting illicit liquor like hooch without a license can receive the death penalty or life imprisonment in Gujarat if consumption causes death.

Persons convicted of manufacturing or distributing spurious liquor, that does not cause death, can be sentenced to 7-10 years imprisonment.

The bill in effect makes Gujarat somewhat similar to prohibition-era USA and by far the strictest state in India for controls on liquor sales.

The latest amendment builds on the state’s 1949 prohibition act last amended in 2009 after anotherhooch tragedy where 157 people died and many others were injured in the city of Ahmadabad.

Tragedy in the east highlights need for the bill from the west?

Legal revisions may soon be occurring in West Bengal where more than 170 people have died from the consumption of toxic hooch.

The tragedy occurred last week when people in the village of Sangrampur as well as adjoining villages in West Bengal's South 24 Parganas district consumed toxic hooch from local peddlers. According to the state government’s statements, 30 of those affected were still under treatment.

The Station House Office (SHO) for the Sangrampur village region told FoodNavigator-Asia that the hooch was manufactured in 250 illegal hooch units in the neighboring district of North 24 Parganas, which are now being shuttered.

“The hooch was sold in sachets for anywhere between 5 rupees and 20 rupees, roughly a third the price of any legal alcohol. The first death was reported on the morning of December 13 and touched 80 by dawn the next day,”​ he said.

Methyl poisoining

According to the SHO, health department officials have attributed the deaths to cardio-respiratory failure arising out of methyl poisoning. He added that forensic investigators were still determining what chemicals were mixed into the hooch.

The SHO added that the trade of hooch is very tough to shutdown in the region as many people earn their livelihood from it. “I would say that the business is no less than US$2m annually and perhaps thousands of people depend on this trade.”

The SHO has often battled accusations that law enforcement officials overlook the trade in lieu of kickbacks and cuts from the traders.

The state government has hinted it wants to shut the trade down but has not formalised any actions.

West Bengal has excise rates that range from 30% to 49% on liquor, which creates an opportunity for illegal liquor production, as legal liquor is too expensive for those on low incomes

In the drive to maximise profits, hooch manufacturers utilize chemicls and ingredients that cause the liquor to become unsafe.

Related topics: Policy, South Asia, Asian tastes, Beverages

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