Excise Department to constitute a panel to study chemical make-up of toddy

Will getting to know the chemical composition of naturally occurring toddy change the game for a multi-million-dollar industry on which more than 50,000 people depend for their livelihood?

The question has been raised by stake-holders following a recent decision by the Excise Department to constitute a committee to study the chemical composition of toddy, formerly Kerala’s favourite brew.

It is estimated that the nearly 5,200 toddy shops in Kerala sell roughly seven lakh litres of toddy a day against the production of around five lakh litres, giving rise to accusations that bulk of the toddy sold in Kerala is spurious.

However, the situation is set to change, claimed an official of the Excise Department. He said the Abkari Act, which now controlled the production and sale of toddy in the state, did not specify the chemical composition of naturally occurring toddy. It only says that naturally-occurring toddy contains 8.1 per cent of ethyl alcohol.

“There is no way now to determine whether the toddy sample tested is naturally occurring or synthetically constituted,” said the Excise Department official, who felt that determining whether a sample had been produced synthetically held the key to successful prosecution of adulterators.

The official said around 50 per cent of the toddy adulteration cases fail in the courts because the chemical analyst, who gives the certificate on a particular sample collected by the Excise Department, is in no position to determine whether the sample is naturally occurring or has been exposed to the public earlier.

However, trade unions representing toddy tappers and toddy workers have questioned the logic behind the constitution of a committee to study toddy’s chemical composition. It was already with Kerala Agricultural Universtiy, said V. S. Sunilkumar of Enamavu-Peringottukara-Anthikkadu Chethuthozhilali Union, AITUC.

Chairman of Coconut Development Board T. K. Jose said the Board did not have the mandate to study the prospects of toddy but it was entrusted with the task of studying the commercial possibilities of tapping the sap from coconut inflorescence neera, a non-alcoholic drink, on a commercial basis.

Secretary of Kerala State Chethuthozhilali Federation D. P. Madhu claimed there was no need for a new study on the chemical composition of naturally occurring toddy because the government does not test all the samples it collected from toddy shops across the State.

He also questioned the precision of any study to determine the exact alcoholic content in natural toddy because of variables like soil conditions, climate change and the maturity of the coconut bunches chosen for toddy tapping. For instance, he said, toddy tapped in Palakkad often had an ethyl alcohol content of around 10 per cent against the conventional understanding of 8.1 per cent.

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