news Wednesday, June 24, 2015 - 05:30
    As Mumbai still grapples with the horrific loss of over 100 lives to the menace of illicit-liquor, or hooch as it is commonly known, the Maharashtra government is known to have gone on a massive drive to crackdown on the hooch-mafia. As this Mid-Day report points out, there has to be a consistent effort to keep illicit-liquor off the streets, because every time the police lower their guard, the threat returns.   There are several lessons to learn from Kerala, a state which not so long ago was a hotbed for hooch criminals. There was a time in Kerala when news of people dying due to consumption of hooch was a regular feature, and it took the state many years to bring things under control.     The string of hooch tragedies in Kerala began in 1981 when 34 people died at Punalur in Kollam district after consuming hooch. It was followed by the 1982 Vypeen tragedy in which 72 people consumed poisonous liquor and died. Through the 80s and 90s, there were several incidents. The next major tragedy was in the year 2000 in Kalluvathukkal in Kollam in which the death toll was 32. The latest was in 2010 in which 17 people died in Malappuram district. Between 1981 and 2010 there were at least 250 hooch fatalities, according to media reports. And it is not just about the deaths, thousands have been rendered physically disabled due to illicit liquor.   Though Kerala state government banned arrack in 1994, huge quantities of illegal spirit continued to be distributed in Kerala in the following years. But after 2010, there has been no such incidents.   So what happened to the state after 2010?   For one, Kerala went all out to conduct raids against hooch and did so consistently. According to the excise department, between 2011 and 2015 more than 4.79 lakh police raids have been conducted to check spirit smuggling and to ensure quality of liquor in toddy shops, liquor shops and distillation units.   In those four years, more than 56,000 cases have been registered for hooch related crimes, with around 55,000 people arrested and 1.3 lakh litres of spirit and 16,285 litres of arrack seized.   “After 2010 we restructured our excise force and implemented many strict and new methods to tackle this issue,” says K. Suresh Babu, Deputy Excise Commissioner (Abkari). “The main success was in the fact that we could completely stop the interstate smuggling of spirit through strict vigilance at the borders.”   The other step the government took was to increase the punishment for production or distribution for illicit liquor. “If convicted for keeping poisoned liquor or spirit smuggling a person can get imprisonment up to 10 years with Rs 1 lakh as fine,” Suresh Babu said.   The law enforcement agencies were strict and conducted surprise inspections at liquor shops, toddy shops. Most importantly, the excise department developed a team of informers in every village to locate the illegal arrack distilleries. “We did wide inspections and introduced a mobile laboratory to test the quality of the alcohol on the spot, at present we have two such vehicles and we are planning to introduce two more,” says Babu.   Apart from this, the district-level intelligence teams also keep a watch. They investigate and inspect suspected areas in disguise, which according to Suresh Babu has been a great success.  “We have an academy where the officials on ground are given special training by experts, from different parts of the country. Even officers from other states like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu attend our training programs,” says Babu.    
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