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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
'Hundreds more could have died'
The Crime Branch Unit XI raided one Francis D’Mello’s house in Rathodi, Malwani, and found nine drums, eight of which were full, with hundreds of litres of spurious liquor. The drums were hidden in two rooms inside a hutment in a slum, one of which was underground and the entrance to the other was camouflaged.
Crime Branch officials push one of the barrels seized from Francis D’Mello’s hutment yesterday
Cops suspect that D’Mello is one of the major dealers of illicit alcohol and that the liquor, which killed at least 104 people, was part of the batch seized yesterday. They said that had the spurious alcohol in the drums made it to bars and sellers in Malwani and other areas, hundreds of others could have died
More than 35 places have been raided and more than 40 people have been detained. The crime branch has sent several samples, including those found with D’Mello to the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL), Kalina.
Seven people have been arrested by the Crime Branch so far, apart from other arrests made by the local police, and cops are also on the lookout for a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law duo, Meena and Veena Acharya from Rathodi village, who allegedly supplied the killer liquor to Raju Langda, from whom it reached the victims.
Till now eight officials from Malwani police station, including a senior police inspector, have been suspended. Most officials from the Malwani police are believed to be hand-in-glove with the bootleggers. Of the more than 40 victims still undergoing treatment, over 60 per cent are said to be on ventilator support.
They are being treated in eight hospitals, private as well as public, across the central and western suburbs. Many have lost their vision, which is one of the serious after-effects of methanol poisoning. Around 14 patients are undergoing treatment at Nair, four at Babasaheb Ambedkar Hospital in Kandivli and three each at KEM and Sion hospitals. The remaining victims are in private hospitals and nursing homes.