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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hooch Horror After Hospital Hell

Toxic tentacles: Where everyone gets a cut

Kolkata: The hooch deaths in West Bengal, coming days after the AMRI hospital tragedy, have put the spotlight on the state's illicit liquor trade. 
    Sale of liquor laced with toxic methanol is an easy way to earn money in Kolkata's fringes and vast areas of rural Bengal. A section of police, local politicians and district excise officials get a cut from this illegal trade, said sources. "Many people are getting a share out of it. So, who will take action against these people?" asked a police officer. 
    Illegal liquor rackets flourish across the state. Hooch reaches semi-urban areas by the barrel from distilleries in North and South 24-Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly and East and West Midnapore. Racketeers only need a few ovens and barrels. They mix chemicals ranging from sulphur and ammonium chloride to even battery acid to give a kick to the hooch and make a profit. But, hooch 
often kills scores and it is only then the administration seems to wake up. After hooch deaths, raids are conducted and 'distilleries' demolished. However, hooch sellers are back in business within days. 
    "It's only during this period that the police help us conduct raids and arrest the culprits. The rest of the year, they are casual about raids," said an excise department official. 
    A senior government offi
cial was transferred from the excise directorate when he tried to smash an illegal chain in Barrackpore. "It's impossible for these shops to exist without the police's knowledge. Political parties and local excise staff are also in the know," he said. 
    At Sangrampur, victims had purchased the illegal hooch for about Rs 10 for 500ml, less than a third of the price of country liquor sold from licenced shops. Police said an illegal distillery in Mograhat village supplied the spurious liquor to 70 shops in Sangrampur. The business is hugely profitable as bootleggers pay no taxes and sell enormous quantities of hooch. 
    "Different policies of the two governments (CPM and TMC) created hurdles in setting up legal shops but allowed people to set up illegal distilleries and retails. The poor and the unemployed consumed the cheap liquor," said Anindita Hajra, a social scientist. 

Country Liquor (CL) 
Market estimated at 220 million cases (of 9 litres each) in 2008 
Retail value 25,000 crore 
In last five years, CL consumers have taken to cheap IMFL. This explains why CL market growth has been subdued 
Southern states have banned sale of CL. UP, Maharashtra Bihar and West Bengal big markets for CL 
About 60 million 
(5% approx.) Indians are alcoholics. This equals the population of France 

of the alcohol consumed in India is illegal hooch 

More than half 
of all drinkers in India fall in hazardous drinking category 
95% of beverages 
drunk in India are IMFL, licensed country liquor, and illicit spirits 

    Official records show 
alcohol sales have grown 8% 
in the past 3 yrs. These figures don't include illegal liquor sales 
    Govt stats show only 21% of adult Indian men and 2% of women drink 
    Percentage of drinking population aged under 21 years up from 2% to more than 14% in 15 years 
    Average age of initiation dropped from 19 years to 13 years in two decades
    Employers in poor communities sometimes pay wages in alcohol rather than cash, WHO says 
Alcohol-related problems account for more than a fifth of hospital admissions 
18% of psychiatric emergencies 
More than 20% of all brain injuries 
60% of all injuries 
reporting to emergency rooms 
A NIMHANS study shows in many poor households of Karnataka, average monthly expenditure on alcohol more than average monthly salary 
Ban on country liquor in Maharashtra saw wife beating cases drop by 35% 
in 2010 

How much does a hooch pouch cost in Bengal? As little as Rs 10 for half a litre 
Maximizing profits Bootleggers, working from homes, warehouses and forests, can turn 1 litre of genuine alcohol into 1,000 litres of bootlegged swill with chemicals and additives that usually cause no harm, but on occasion can lead to tragedy 

Typical hooch poisoning symptoms 
Vomiting, piercing headaches, frothing at the mouth 
Complaints of burning chest and severe stomach pain 
Spurious liquor can induce coma, blindness and death


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