Dance of death

June 23, 2015 01:47 am | Updated November 17, 2021 12:14 am IST

The smell of death continues to hang over the Laxmi Nagar slum in Malvani in Mumbai’s western suburbs. The first reports of >deaths from spurious liquor came in last week, and over the next four days the toll has crossed 100, making it Maharashtra’s worst such tragedy. In 2004, the death toll in a similar tragedy went up to 87. The use of methanol, the highly toxic alcohol, is once again the factor in these deaths. The human scale of the tragedy is shocking. It has killed the chief bread-winners, widowed several women, some as young as 18, and orphaned small children who have no means to survive. Mainkaini Swami alias Akka, the >alleged mastermind , runs a bootlegging network, and is on the run. Two of her associates were arrested, but Akka remains elusive. She was arrested five times in the past, but has continued to run the network right under the nose of law enforcement agencies. It is tragic that mass deaths among the poor due to >illicit liquor consumption is still prevalent. Since 2001, illicit hooch has killed over 700 people across India in 18 recorded incidents. The biggest such tragedy, which killed 180 people in May 2008, was in >Karnataka . Then, 170 people were killed in >West Bengal in December 2011 .

The latest tragedy has been an embarrassment to the BJP-Shiv Sena government, and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis will in all probability now clamp down on illicit liquor units across the State. After the 2004 tragedy the Congress-NCP government had made Section 65 of the Bombay Prohibition Act a non-bailable provision with the maximum punishment ranging from six months to three years. However, excise and police officials say bootleggers like Akka manage to get bail and return to the business. The government is now considering the application of more stringent laws such as the Maharashtra Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Slumlords, Bootleggers, Drug Offenders and Dangerous Persons Act, 1981, or even the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) which will make bail a difficult proposition. The government has received many representations, especially from women, to ban liquor in temple towns such as Pandharpur, and Tuljapur, Nagpur and Yavatmal, In January the government declared >Chandrapur “liquor-free” , making it the third “dry” district after Gadchiroli, and Wardha, where Mahatma Gandhi’s Sevagram ashram is located. But, in Gadchiroli and Wardha districts, in the last four years the Excise Department has lodged some 2,000 cases and seized illicit alcohol worth over Rs.2,000 crore. So for now, effective police action combined with stringent laws remains the only way to stop this dance of death.

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