Punjab: Behind the tragedy, spurious chemical-laced liquor

Written by Kamaldeep Singh Brar
| Amritsar |

Published: August 2, 2020 10:26:15 pm

The country made liquor is also manufactured in distilleries. It is considered illicit when the makers sell it without paying the excise duty.

Country-made liquor or ‘ghar di sharaab’ remains a much glorified subject in the Punjabi society with several songs being woven around it. While it is illegal to brew liquor at home or without license, the country-made liquor, at times distilled in cookers, carries a colourful reputation and is often used as gift for friends, guests, officers and ven political leaders in the state.

The country made liquor is also manufactured in distilleries. It is considered illicit when the makers sell it without paying the excise duty.

However, the tragedy that has been unfolding in Punjab since Wednesday and which has already led to deaths of 98 people took place due to consumption of spurious liquor.

Denatured spirit used

Instead of first making ‘Lahan’ and then going through distillation, as is done in the case of country-made liqour, the modus operandi in recent tragedy was to use denatured spirit to create ‘liquor’. In this process, the brewers add some chemicals and water to dilute denatured spirit to make it consumable. A huge quantity of liquor is manufactured at low cost in almost no time.

According to the Excise Commissioner, though reports of the chemical analysis of the material seized in Saturday’s raids were yet to come, a superficial check showed that the material was denatured spirit, generally used in paint and hardware industry.

What went wrong

The accused, as per the sources, had been mixing water into denatured spirit along with some chemicals at room temperature. A change in the composition of the denatured spirit owing to addition of chemicals and water may produce methanol.

On consumption, methanol changes into formic acid inside the body. The accumulation of formic acid adversely affects various organ systems. Methanol poisoning can result in death within few hours if not treated immediately. In case it is consumed in low quantity, methanol can cause partial or permanent blindness.

Low vision and temporary blindness emerged as common symptoms among those who had consumed the spurious liquor but survived.

Tilak Raj, a contractual employee of the Batala Municipal Corporation, said he felt uneasy after drinking the spurious liquor. “The liquor was yellowish in colour. After I drank it, I was not able to see properly and felt uneasiness,” he said. He survived as his family immediately took him to the doctor.

“Now, I am feeling slightly better but my vision has not improved and I am feeling giddy,” the 50-year-old said.

Similar Tragedies

In February 2019, around 100 people had died in Haridwar of Uttrakhand and Saharanpur and Khushinagar of Uttar Pradesh after drinking spurious liquor made with denatured spirit. The accused had secured high quantity of denatured spirit from open market.

Denatured spirit is also used in hospitals. Three persons had died in Kerala in 2017 after they stole denatured spirit from hospital, made liquor with it and consumed it.

Low price

Due to heavy excise duty on legal liquor, the sale of spurious liquor is flourishing.

Tilak Raj, who lives in Hathi Gate area of Batala that has reported several deaths, said he bought the bottle of liquor for Rs 60. “A bottle same size at government approved vend comes for Rs 120,” he said.

Besides, illegal liquor packed in plastic bags is available at prices as low as Rs 10.

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