Vulnerable spots are in Chirayinkeezh, Neyyattinkara

The possibility of a liquor tragedy is considerably high in at least two taluks in the district this festival season, Excise Department enforcers said.

They said the ‘vulnerable localities’ were in Chirayinkeezh and Neyyattinkara taluks, including Anchuthengu, Pozhiyoor, Vamanapuram, and Kilimanoor.

Investigators said alcohol consumption pattern in these localities was markedly different from other areas in the district. A large section of people, particularly those hailing from the lower economic stratum of society, had a discernable preference for Ayurvedic preparations containing alcohol, which they consumed as a cheap substitute for liquor.

Catering to this demand was a whole set of so-called ‘Ayurveda medical shops,’ many run by persons who were not registered Ayurveda practitioners.

A 400-ml bottle of Arishtam, which contained up to 12 per cent alcohol, the legally permissible limit, was being sold for less than Rs.20 and without any prescription.

Most of these shops, which run on the basis of licences issued by the Excise Department, operated on the lines of old arrack shops.

The staff provided customers glasses and curtained cubicles to sit and drink.

The department enforcers, who conducted a random inspection of some of these outlets and gathered samples, said the strength of alcohol in certain preparations was more than 20 per cent, almost three times the proof of bottled beer.

They closed several shops and prosecuted the licensees. Most got away with a light fine and returned to restart their business. Their argument in court was that fermentation had resulted in the increase in proof and not addition of liquor. Officials said the shops thrived in areas where people had to travel a bit to access toddy shops or State-owned liquor retail outlets.

They said they had information that illicit liquor smuggled into the State ended up being retailed, mixed with such preparations.

Another emerging pattern of liquor consumption, mixing Arishtams with codeine, an allergy suppressant found in cough syrups and other medication, chiefly diazepam, was a major cause of concern.

Investigators said they had prepared a list of manufacturers who supplied Ayurvedic preparations to such outlets.

They would intensify inspections in such localities and shut down shops which were not run by registered practitioners.