Illicit/unregulated alcohol or hooch forms a large part of the alcohol consumed in India, especially in villages and tribal areas. It has become a root cause of many major tragedies thus it becomes necessary to know about this menace that has been explained below.
Major Hooch tragedies in India
- In 2009, Nearly 136 people had been reported dead in Ahmedabad.
- In 2011, a hooch tragedy in Sangrampur in West Bengal had claimed the lives of 172 people.
- In 2015, 102 people died in Mumbai due to consumption of poisonous liquor.
- In January, 2019, almost 95 people died in UP and Uttarakhand
- In the most recent case in Feb, 2019 250 people died in Assam due to consumption of illicit liquor.
What is illicit liquor?
- Alcoholic beverages are made by fermentation of sugary and starchy substances, followed by distillation to increase alcohol concentration. The active ingredient in them is ethyl alcohol or ethanol.
- Illicit alcohol in contrast to other permitted liquors, is produced under unregulated circumstances and is often adulterated with chemicals like methanol, organo-phosphorus compounds and ethanol to save costs.
- Among the above-mentioned chemicals, Methyl alcohol (methanol) is a commonly used adulterant because of its appearance and taste similar to ethyl alcohol and its easy availability. It has also been concluded that it was the reason behind major hooch tragedies.
- Methyl alcohol (methanol) is generally used for furniture polish.
Negative Effects of Illicit liquor
- Post consumption, Methanol is changed into formic acid inside the body. The accumulation of formic acid in the body adversely affects various organ systems.
- In normal cases it leads to dizziness and vomiting but as Methyl alcohol is extremely toxic — in extreme cases, 10 ml can cause blindness and 30 ml can cause death within 10 to 30 hours.
Why use of illicit liquor is so widespread?
- Legal alcohol is taxed heavily making it unaffordable for the poor and habitual drinkers
- Price of illicit liquor is very low due to its low-cost production and no taxation, making it favorite alcoholic beverage for lower strata.
- illicit liquor preparation and sale of such liquor earns a huge profit to the main bootleggers. Thus, they risk going to jail for short terms or paying officials to avoid being caught.
- Patients and relatives are hesitant in disclosing the real facts about consumption of liquor due to its corollary like fear of police action.
- Delay in providing antidote (ethyl alcohol) at the initial stage leads to more casualties.
- The victim starts experimenting with homemade remedies and seeks treatment only when condition becomes worse.
- Lack of education unawareness about the evil effects of illicit liquor.
- Present laws for prohibition are very liberal, lenient and the quantum of punishment is very minor, with exception of states that made changes recently.
Constitution Provisions that must direct state’s policy against liquor
Our constitution through various provisions has implicitly and explicitly directed states to take action that can reduce the amount of or eliminate the alcohol consumption:
PART IV: DIRECTIVE PRINCIPLES OF STATE POLICY Article 47 envisages duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health: The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and, in particular, the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.
Article 21 provides for Right to life and liberty, which as per Supreme Court does not mean merely ‘animal existence’ but living with ‘human dignity’ and consumption of liquor leads to degradation of human dignity.
Article 38 envisages the function of the Republic is to secure, inter alia, social, economic and political justice. i.e. not only legal justice but the socioeconomic justice as well.
Legal status: Alcohol prohibition is a state subject in India with each state having full control of alcohol legislation, state excise rates and the organization of production and sale of alcohol. There is thus significant variation in prohibition across states and over time within states.
Recommendations by Hooch tragedy commission of Gujarat
- Elevate the standards of literacy in slum areas and rehabilitation of addicts/offenders duly supported by meaningful alternative social and clinical therapy/ activities.
- Awareness through entertainment is also one of the best ways to bring down addiction level.
- State Government should frame specific Rules, particularly for manufacture, transport, import of methyl alcohol rules. The existing rules are not adequate.
- Steps to break the nexus between Police and bootleggers must be taken. A speedy and effective mechanism to investigate the matters should be placed.
- Proper supply of antidotes (Ethyl alcohol and fomepizole) and instruments for diagnosis to the hospitals should be ensured and doctors must be trained to handle these tragedies.
By looking at the number of casualties (given on the top) every year (or alternate year), we can easily infer that this matter should be urgently dealt with. Though this subject matter comes under the jurisdiction of states but as it is not a state specific issue, central government must constitute a commission to look into the issue and issue some model suggestive guidelines to states to deal with it.