'Mumbai hooch victims were not consuming liquor, but poison'

The level of methanol found in the viscera and other samples of the victims of the June 18 tragedy, which left over 100 dead, has shocked even forensic scientists; they say they have never, in careers spanning decades, seen such a high level of the toxic chemical in methanol poisoning victims

Shocking forensic scientists with decades of experience — who are no strangers to tragedy and are used to being surrounded by the stink of death — is no mean feat, but the people responsible for the Malwani hooch tragedy, which left more than 100 people dead, have managed to do just that.

Also read: Will seek fast track trial of Mumbai hooch case, says CM Devendra Fadnavis

They shall pay: Police officials say the reports from the analysis will serve as vital evidence and hep build a watertight case against the accused. FILE PIC
They shall pay: Police officials say the reports from the analysis will serve as vital evidence and hep build a watertight case against the accused. File Pic

Analysis of the viscera and other samples has led the scientists to a damning conclusion: the level of methanol in the brew sold to the victims was so high that while they thought they were buying and consuming alcohol, they were actually willingly gulping down poison.

A team of 25 experts attached to the Toxicology department of the State Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL), Kalina, have completed the mammoth task of analysing the over 200 samples of viscera, blood, vomit, urine etc that were collected from treating hospitals and post-mortem centres in the city and sent to them by the police officials probing the Malwani hooch tragedy.

Most of the viscera and blood reports were dispatched earlier this week by the concerned police stations to the post-mortem centres for ascertaining the final cause of death, which was pending in all the death cases. Confirming the development, a senior forensic scientist attached to FSL, Kalina said, “We have found methanol in all the samples that were sent to us, but the shocking factor was the level of methanol — which varied from 15 mg to around 200 mg in the blood, viscera samples and even stomach, apart from ethyl alcohol presence.” mid-day is in possession of the viscera reports of two victims.

Rukmini Krishnamurthy, ex director of the State Forensic Science Laboratory, Kalina, said, “The reports clearly show in these two cases that the level of methyl alcohol is much, much higher than the lethal dose (LD). Once the level of methyl alcohol goes above the LD level, it leads to toxicity and may cause serious health issues. In this case, it is evident from the FSL reports that the deceased were not consuming liquor but were consuming poison directly.”

“In my 35 years of experience, I have seen several cases of methanol poisoning, including those of the victims of the Vikhroli hooch tragedy of 2004, but I have never seen the methanol content this high,” added Krishnamurthy, who is currently the chairperson and CEO of Helik Advisory Ltd. and Academic Council Member, Gujarat Forensic Science University.

The police have now submitted the FSL findings to the forensic surgeons in the Bhagwati post-mortem centre, which has conducted the majority of the autopsies in the hooch tragedy case, and the Sion and Nair post-mortem centres, requesting them to submit the final cause-s of death report.

Vital evidence
Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime), KMM Prasanna said, “We have discussed the FSL reports and have even spoken to our legal department, which has advised that it is a fit case to be taken up under the ambit of Section 300 (point 4) (If the person committing the act knows that it is so imminently dangerous that it must, in all probability, cause death or such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, and commits such act without any excuse for incurring the risk of causing death or such injury), to be tried under Section 302 (Punishment for murder) and 307 (Attempt to murder). The FSL report will help us to make a watertight case against the arrested accused. We have sent a proposal to the state government requesting that Pradeep Gharat be appointed special public prosecutor in the case and are confident of getting conviction in this case.”

Also read: Police ask court to invoke murder charges in Malwani hooch tragedy

Noted criminal lawyer Majeed Memon expressed a similar view saying, “If the prosecution can establish that the hooch provider had full knowledge that what he was supplying for human consumption to the customers was fatal and was not in the least meant for human consumption and yet with this knowledge the supply was made, it would fall within the ingredients of Section 300 of Indian Penal Code. The forensic evidence could be vitally relevant and would guide the court to draw conclusion.”

Case 1
Name: Mukthar Yusuf Shaikh (38)
Resident of: Daulat Nagar slum, Karodi Gaon, Malwani, Mumbai
Date of admission: June 19, Shatabdi hospital, Kandivli
Date of death: June 21
Postmortem done at: Bhagwati post-mortem center on June 21
Cause of death: Pending for viscera findings as on June 21
FSL findings on viscera: [Level of methyl alcohol (methanol) and Ethyl alcohol]
>> In stomach: 27.8 mg of methyl alcohol and 298.1 mg of ethyl alcohol
>> In liver, spleen, kidney: 8.18 mg of methyl alcohol, 42.91 mg of ethyl alcohol
>> In blood: 12.97 mg of methyl alcohol and 322.21 mg of ethyl alcohol
Final cause of death: Death due to poisoning by Methyl and Ethyl alcohol (unnatural)

Case 2
Name: Sakthivel Nagan Kounder (34)
Resident of: Daulat Nagar slum, Karodi Gaon, Malwani, Mumbai
Date of admission: June 20, Shatabdi hospital, Kandivli
Date of death: June 21
Postmortem done at: Bhagwati post-mortem center on June 21
Cause of death: Pending for viscera findings as on June 21
FSL findings on viscera: (Level of methyl alcohol and Ethyl alcohol)
>> In stomach: 48.55 mg of methyl alcohol and 642.15 mg of ethyl alcohol
>> In liver, spleen, kidney: 31.15 mg of methyl alcohol and 46 mg of ethyl alcohol
>> In blood: 27.13 mg of methyl alcohol and 61.21mg of ethyl alcohol
Final cause of death: Death due to poisoning by Methyl and Ethyl alcohol (unnatural)

Blindingly toxic
Rukmini Krishnamurthy, ex director of the State Forensic Science Laboratory, said methanol has a high toxicity in humans. If as little as 10 ml of pure methanol is ingested, for example, it can break down into formic acid, which can cause permanent blindness by destruction of the optic nerve, and 30 ml is potentially fatal, although the lethal dose is typically 100 ml. Toxic effects take hours to start, and effective antidotes can often prevent permanent damage. Because of its similarities in both appearance and odour to ethanol (the alcohol in beverages), it is difficult to differentiate between the two. Methanol ingested in large quantities is metabolised to formic acid or formate salts, which is poisonous to the central nervous system, and may cause blindness, coma, and death.

Uses
According to forensic scientists, methanol, or methyl alcohol, is a clear, colorless liquid with a pungent odour at normal temperatures. First discovered in the late 1600s, methanol has been called wood alcohol because it was obtained commercially from the destructive distillation of wood for more than a century. True wood alcohol contained more contaminants, including acetone and acetic acid, than the chemical-grade methanol available today.
For many years, the largest use for methanol (about 50% of the total produced) was in the production of formaldehyde. It is now also used in the production of acetic acid, methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), oxindol (used to improve gasoline octane), and other chemical intermediates. Methanol is also a solvent found in paint remover, varnish, and shellac.

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