Deadly brew: on illicit liquor deaths

The death of more than 100 people to toxic alcohol in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand has exposed the thriving sale of illicit liquor in the region. India remains among the countries with a high number of alcohol-related deaths, with poor governance, corruption and distorted policies contributing to such periodic tragedies. The governments in U.P. and Uttarakhand cannot evade responsibility for the death of so many people, the majority of them in Saharanpur district of U.P. Preliminary investigation has confirmed the well-entrenched system of illicit liquor vends that are known to exist in the region; several factories producing hooch in U.P. were unearthed within a couple of days of the episode. Moreover, although several liquor-related deaths have been taking place, it took this staggering number of casualties for the authorities to acknowledge the presence of free-flowing illicit liquor. The Yogi Adityanath government prides itself on its law and order measures but its failure to crack down on these dens exposes the hollow claims. It has tried to put the blame for previous incidents on political opponents hatching conspiracies.

Several instances of toxic alcohol poisoning in India, including the Malvani hooch tragedy in Mumbai in 2015 that killed 106 people, have been attributed to the lack of affordable liquor for the poor. High taxes and excise raise prices, and cheap brews are peddled by criminal organisations, often in collusion with law enforcement personnel. In U.P., many communities have protested the sale of cheap liquor in pouches that are freely distributed during social events. What seems to have happened in Saharanpur follows the trend, with toxic alcohol originating in Haridwar in Uttarakhand being supplied at a family ritual. While it is no one’s case that consumption of cheap liquor needs to be encouraged or promoted, severe bottlenecks are proving counterproductive. An enlightened policy is needed to strike a balance, curbing illicit flows with zero tolerance, discouraging consumption through social campaigns and reviewing levies on less harmful beverages. At the moment, it is essential to make an example of those who participated in the sale of the lethal brew, and investigate any nexus with the authorities. If it is true that the suspects had a history of dealing in hooch, the Special Investigation Team constituted by the U.P. government should find out how they continued to operate their trade. In parallel, it is vital that the capacities of the health system be upgraded to handle victims of toxic alcohol. Toxicity often comes from drinking methanol, which results in blindness, tissue damage or death. Timely treatment through haemodialysis, infusion of sodium bicarbonate and ethyl alcohol can save lives.

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2021 3:28:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/deadly-brew/article26252293.ece

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