With the death toll in the Malwani hooch tragedy touching 104 and around 40 victims still recuperating, two things have become clear: the first is that every time the police bosses shift focus to another threat, the previous one rears its ugly head once again, with the knowledge, and even help, of their subordinates.

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The Crime Branch raided a house in Rathodi, Malwani, yesterday and found hundreds of litres of spurious liquor in nine drums. They suspect that the hooch, which has killed at least 104 people so far, was part of this batch seized yesterday
The Crime Branch raided a house in Rathodi, Malwani, yesterday and found hundreds of litres of spurious liquor in nine drums. They suspect that the hooch, which has killed at least 104 people so far, was part of this batch seized yesterday

The second, a corollary of the first, is that it takes a tragedy to jolt the police machinery into action. Following the 2004 hooch tragedy, in which as many as 87 people had died from consuming liquor with high methanol content, the police had initiated a crackdown and had stopped the supply of methanol to brewers into the city and its surrounding areas from other states.

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With the recent shift to tackling the menace of meow meow aka mephedrone, which was brought under the ambit of the NDPS Act, Crime Branch sources said, methanol took a backseat.

The methanol mafia, thus, managed to make a comeback, with several police officials in their pocket, and an extensive well-oiled network was put in place to supply liquor laced with the chemical for a ‘better high’ to various parts of the city through sea and land routes. With the June 18 tragedy striking, however, another crackdown has begun.

Gujarat connection
According to officials in the Crime Branch, the chemical is being supplied to producers of illegal liquor from the methanol mafia in neighbouring Gujarat.

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They said methanol is permitted to be supplied only to legal manufacturers of alcohol in Maharashtra, which run under the supervision of the government, but it is being supplied to bootleggers who brew liquor in slums and heavily wooded tracts of the city and add the methanol as is for a better kick.

The officials said that the greed of such methanol distributors is responsible for the deaths of the 104 people and that the Crime Branch will approach the Gujarat government to find out the manufacturers and distributors of the chemical.

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“Methanol suppliers from Gujarat, who are suspected to part of a big mafia network, are now the prime target. They supply methanol to various cities, including Mumbai. We have made 7 arrests in this connection including two women Mamata Rathod (30) and Agnes Gracy (50) and more arrests are likely,” said a Crime Branch official.

Network
According to Crime Branch sources, their raids have shed light on a complex modus operandi of brewing and transporting the illicit liquor to various parts of the city. They said the alcohol is brewed in slums and jungle areas in the city like Saso Navghar in Vasai, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and remote areas near the Film City in Goregaon.

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From these areas, the alcohol is transported, by land and sea to other parts of the city in the dead of the night and the transporters are careful not to cross from west to east and vice-versa to avoid checkpoints.

According to the Crime Branch, the killer liquor was supplied to Malwani from Saso Navghar. “There is a beach near Saso Navghar, near which the liquor is brewed and then transported to a seaside location near Charkop by boat.

Dealers from areas like Malwani, Charkop, Malad, Kandivli and Borivli (see map) take delivery from Charkop beach and sell it to customers. Women, too, take delivery of the consignment from the beach,” said a senior Crime Branch official.

Escape planned
“When we tried to raid places like Saso Navghar, national park and the areas near Film City, where the liquor is brewed, we couldn’t catch the brewers as they used to get the message before we could reach the spot. They brew deep inside wooded areas and keep someone to look out for the police.

When we would approach the areas, their man would sound a gong and alert everyone else. Thus, by the time we would reach the spot, the brewers would already have fled and hidden in the remote jungle, where they would be virtually untraceable,” said the official.