5 dead, 30 fall sick after consuming poisonous liquorFive persons died after drinking a toxic batch of hooch at a Musahar Tole at Chandra Ayodhyapur VDC-6 in the district.
According to chief of District Health Office, Dr Dayashankar Karna, the victims suffered from the common symptoms of headache, dizziness, vomiting, high blood pressure, loss of sight and unconsciousness.
Eight persons had died after consuming toxic hooch produced locally in the village three years ago. Last month, six people had lost their lives in another village in Siraha district after consuming toxic moonshine.
Dr Karna attributed the deaths to consumption of locally made liquor with high methanol content. Consuming 10 ml of methanol-laced alcohol can result in blindness and consuming 30 ml could result in death, Dr Karna said. Normally brewed alcohol consists of ethanol. However, methanol is formed when there is any kind of contamination during brewing, he added.
Illegal distilleries rampant in villages
Bootleg liquor produced in several villages of Siraha district is found to be sold openly in cheap bars and restaurants in Gol Bazar, Mirchaiya, Bandipur, Lahan, Sukhipur and district headquarters Siraha.
Although there is no data on the number of illicit distilleries operating in the district, locals estimate at least four to five such establishments to be operational in many villages in Siraha district. Rampuridevi Sah of Sukhipur, who runs one such illegal distillery that produces hooch, said she uses a big tandoor, wood, utensils, molasses, yeast, urea, baking soda and drugs to produce the bootleg liquor. Although using yeast to ferment molasses is the appropriate technique to produce alcohol, she said she uses urea, baking soda and drugs in the absence of yeast.
According to District Police Office, Siraha, police units have been deployed 41 times in the villages found to be illegally producing hooch during the current fiscal year to control the illegal production and sale of hooch, and prevent the death of people through consumption of toxic batch of the substance. But DSP Madhav Budhathoki admitted that the police force have utterly failed in its effort to control the menace of illegal liquor.
Production goes unchecked
Production and sale of spurious alcohol have gone unchecked for some time in eastern and southern villages in Dhanusha district. Hooch produced in the district is even exported to Janakpur and bordering Indian towns and markets.
A decade ago, more than 18 people were killed after consuming illicit moonshine in the district. A case was filed against some people suspected to be engaged in producing the toxic batch of hooch that was responsible for the deaths, but effective punishment was not meted out.
Brewing hooch is a traditional occupation of some of the communities in the district. They use a mixture of mahua (madhuca longifolia), millet and molasses to produce hooch. “The liquor we produced were consumed during festivals and even by pregnant women,” Lattu Kapar of Baghchauda said. “But people who produce it commercially these days use fertilizers like urea to increase production and profit.”
DSP Krishna Prasain said that a campaign has been launched in the district to control the production and sale of illicit alcohol following the incident. According to police, they have destroyed 4,285 litres of such alcohol in the district in the current fiscal year.
Illicit production with government sticker
Illegal trade of alcohol to avoid excise duty is on the rise in Jhapa district lately. Liquor bottles with fake excise duty stickers can easily be found in the market. It has been learnt that traders import fake stickers and bottle caps from India in order to make the bootleg liquor appear genuine.
According to police, bootleg liquor is being sold in the markets of Kakadvitta, Dhulabari, Charali, Sanischare, Surunga and Damak. People involved in such illicit activities have been found using bottles of branded alcohols like Royal Stag, Blue Riband, White Mischief and Ruslan Vodka for the purpose.
“These people use a chemical called spirit that is imported from India to make alcohol,” according to police informants. Chief of Jhapa Police SP Rabindranath Regmi said that the police force is currently in the process of identifying illegal breweries and a campaign to book such joints will soon be launched.
Police have confiscated and destroyed more than 33,000 litres of illicit alcohol in the eastern region in the past 11 months. According to DSP Kedar Khanal of Eastern Regional Police Office, around 15,000 litres of hooch has been destroyed in Morang district alone.
However, sporadic police raid and inspection have proved to be ineffective in controlling the production and sale of illicit moonshine. Police say that perpetrators get away most of the times as illicit alcohol is transported in public vehicles. As most of the alcohol confiscated by police had been found abandoned with no one coming to claim them, it is hard to book the producers and the traders, police say.
Most of the production takes place in Nimuwa and Belbari of Morang. According to the Inland Revenue Office, seven people arrested from Nimuwa along with illicit alcohol last April were released after posting a bail amount of Rs 61,000. Seven other people arrested with 115 litres of alcohol are currently undergoing trial.
(With inputs from Dev Narayan Shah in Siraha, Shyam Sundar Shashi in Janakpur, Parbat Portel in Jhapa and Awadhesh Kumar Jha in Morang)