Spurious liquor deaths in Tamil Nadu | Chemical engineer who sold methanol that killed 22 in Villupuram, Chengalpattu nabbed 

He sold 600 litres of methanol to an agent who supplied it to sellers, say police sources.

Updated - May 23, 2023 03:20 pm IST

Published - May 16, 2023 10:11 pm IST - CHENNAI

Ilaya Nambi. Photo: Special Arrangement

Ilaya Nambi. Photo: Special Arrangement

A chemical engineer who allegedly sold the methanol that killed 22 people in Villupuram and Chengalpattu districts was taken into custody late on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.

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According to police sources, a special team investigating the incident apprehended Ilaya Nambi, an engineer working in a private company at Vanagaram near Chennai. He admitted to have sold 600 litres of methanol, in three barrels, to an agent in Puducherry who supplied it to local arrack-sellers through sub-agents.

Acting on his inputs, an alert was issued to Superintendents of Police in the northern districts of the State. They conducted storming operations in vulnerable areas and seized a large quantity of the methanol (purchased from the chemical engineer), which was kept ready for sale in sachets and cans.

Major tragedy averted

Director-General of Police C. Sylendra Babu said a major tragedy had been averted due to timely intervention by the police. “Had other people consumed it thinking it was locally brewed illicit arrack, the consequences would have been catastrophic…,” he said.

Editorial | Death by methanol: on the hooch tragedy in Tamil Nadu

A sub-agent, who was still in possession of some quantity of the methanol, was absconding and the police were searching for him. The chemical engineer was working since 2018 and he sold the methanol, which was in his custody, knowing well that it was unfit for human consumption, the DGP said.

“Had we not picked up Nambi and extracted information from him on the actual quantity of methanol supplied to the agents, the number of fatalities would have gone up,” he said, adding that the chemical was sold at an approximate cost of ₹40 per litre.

When asked about the storage conditions of methanol and how the prime suspect managed to sell such a huge quantity, a senior police officer said the storage and management of methanol or methyl alcohol was defined in the Tamil Nadu Denatured Spirit Methyl Alcohol and Varnish (French Polish) Rules, 1959.

According to him, every bottle, jar, cask or any other receptacle containing denatured spirit or methylated spirit or methyl alcohol kept for storage or sale in any premises licensed under the rules, or possessed by a private person or institution permitted to be in possession of such spirit “shall have affixed to it in a conspicuous manner a label that should contain the picture of a full human skeleton, at least 7.5 cm in length, extending from top to bottom of the label with the following words printed on the right and left of the picture: Poison — not to be taken internally.”

Investigators were examining the stock register and whether the rules were followed by the private company with respect to procurement, storage and sale of chemicals. They would also investigate how the accused person was in possession of 600 litres of methanol, which he sold, and how the chemical was accounted for in the company’s records.

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