Illicit brew continues to play havoc with villagers

CHENNAI NOV. 13. Notwithstanding claims of creation of an awareness by the Prohibition Enforcement Wing to wean people away from illicit liquor and introduction of Indian-Made Foreign Liquor in 100 ml bottles, it appears ``local brew'' continues to be the favourite drink among villagers, as the latest incident in Panruti taluk in Cuddalore district shows. Absence of a sustained drive against illicit distillation, and sale of arrack play havoc with rural areas.

The police here are awaiting reports from the Superintendents of Villupuram and Cuddalore districts and the PEW to find out whether there was any negligence on the part of police personnel or connivance in distillation and sale of arrack, PEW sources say.

Villagers of Worayur in Cuddalore district consumed the drink sold at Anathur in the neighbouring Villupuram district, the sources said. On noticing the condition of a victim, Devarajan, the police and revenue officials used the services of a town crier, urging others who also consumed illicit liquor to go to hospital.

Though the situation is not as serious as was the one witnessed last year, when more than 50 persons died near Panruti after consuming methanol, the sources admit that illicit arrack is flowing freely in the area. Only 10 years ago, did a tragedy, similar to last year's, strike Panruti.

After the latest hooch incident was reported, the police raided ``black spots'' in Cuddalore and Panruti and arrested bootleggers. The sources point out that illicit sale of rectified spirit, which was rampant in Panruti, has been curbed considerably. But, in the absence of rectified spirit (ethyl alcohol) the people took to methanol at Panruti. This, consumed undiluted, resulted in loss of vision and also proved fatal. However, there has been no major incident after the chemical was brought under the Tamil Nadu Prohibition Act.

Thus local liquor, which gives a ``kick'', is sought after by people who do not hesitate to go from one village to another in search of the `drink. In the absence of sustained action, the distillers and sellers thrive, in some places with alleged police connivance. At times, an entire family is engaged in preparing and selling illicit arrack.

One victim critical

S. Dorairaj reports from Villupuram:

Meanwhile, the condition of a hooch victim, M. Devarajan (40), undergoing treatment in the JIPMER, Pondicherry, became critical. There was a ``blockage in a vessel supplying blood to the brain''.

Devarajan of Manamthavazhndaputhur, near Panruti, developed a problem with his eyesight after consuming illicit arrack on Saturday.

Police sources at Villupuram, quoting medical opinion, said his problem was not caused by alcohol consumption but was a result of ``prolonged illness or disease.''

His condition was so bad that he could not be shifted to a hospital in Chennai.

Blood tests showed no trace of methanol, chloral hydrate or any other poisonous material, the Superintendent of Police, A. K. Singh, said. `

`The presence of a very low percentage of ethyl alcohol showed that the victim might have consumed ordinary alcohol'', the SP noted.

In another development, intensive raids conducted in different parts of the district had so far resulted in the arrest of 151 bootleggers, including 33 women.

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