Mumbai: 204 illegal breweries came up in SGNP between 2007-2017
A Right to Information application filed by mid-day reveals that Sanjay Gandhi National Park forest department officials busted an average of 20 hooch breweries per year, but have arrested only five in the same period
One of the hooch-making units busted by the Forest Department
In the four years since mid-day's expose about a sprawling and relatively unchecked illicit liquor brewing racket in the dense, green environs of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), authorities have done precious little to curb the activity. The reply to a Right to Information (RTI) query filed by this paper has revealed that between 2007 and 2017, the Forest Department (FD) authorities have taken action against 204 brewing units in the core forest area, but only five people have been arrested so far.
mid-day had filed the RTI in the last quarter of 2017, seeking information from SGNP authorities about the action taken against the illicit liquor-brewing units inside the park between January 2007 and October 2017. The reply states that in the time, a total of 204 hooch units were busted in the Tulsi and Yeoor range of SGNP.
Only a handful have been arrested over the decade in hooch busts at SGNP. File Pic
Also BMC's job
The hooch units are also hijacking the Tulsi and Vihar lakes that are important sources of water for the city. The ample amount of water available across the year helps the illicit liquor mafia operate throughout the year, FD sources said. While the illicit liquor brewing units found in the Tulsi range were close to the Tulsi and Vihar Lake, FD sources told mid-day that a portion of the Vihar Lake comes under BMC's jurisdiction and keeping a tab on the illegal entrants inside the park is also the civic body's job as FD staff has to patrol a huge area on lesser manpower.
In 2016 and 2017, not a single illicit liquor unit was found in the Tulsi range, states the RTI reply. Inside the Tulsi range, the units were most commonly located near Vihar Lake, a pipeline close to it, Saibhangoda and Malad trail on the western periphery of the park. In the Yeoor range, the hooch hotspots were Kavesar, Pachpakhadi, Owala, Sasunavghar and Nagla Chena. In the Yeoor range busts between 2007 and 2017, FD confiscated a total of 349 drums, barrels and tanks and 79 boilers from the sites. mid-day tried to contact SGNP director Anwar Ahmad, but he was unavailable for comment.
Operational for decades
Reacting to the RTI reply, Kedar Gore, conservationist and director of Corbett Foundation said, "This is a serious matter. The arrest rate is less than 3 per cent. Illicit liquor breweries have been operational in SGNP for decades. All of these have links to illegal hutments and slums around the park." "If the department decides to have a serious crackdown, not even one brewery will exist in the park. [But] There have been instances of people attacking and threatening forest guards, who carry nothing but a stick for self-defence. FD needs a serious makeover in terms of equipment and commando forces to deal with such situations. People involved in illegal breweries could also be involved in poaching, hunting and other anti-social activities," he added.
Mayur Kamath, honorary wildlife warden of the Mumbai suburbs said, "Most of the breweries around the periphery of the park were operated by tribals and people from the slum areas. Since the park is surrounded by slums and ample mobile phone reception, which always hampers the raid. Because of this, news of the teams arriving in the park reaches bootleggers before the teams actually do."
Conservationist Bittu Sahgal from Sanctuary Nature Foundation said, "These activities are inimical to the very forests that supply us with water. They cause devastating forest fires. The hoodlums running these illegal liquor stills also rob, threaten and sometimes assault visitors in the park. All old case files should be reopened and exemplary action taken against staff found guilty of slackness in bringing the guilty to book."
349 No. of drums, barrels and tanks confiscated between 2007 and 2017
79 No. of boilers confiscated between 2007 and 2017
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