Mumbai hooch tragedy toll climbs to over 100

Mumbai (IANS): The death toll in the Mumbai hooch tragedy – the worst in 11 years in Maharashtra – shot up to 102 on Monday, police said.

“The toll has reached 102 and another 46 people are under treatment in various hospitals,” Deputy Commissioner of Police Dhananjay Kulkarni, who is also Mumbai Police spokesperson, told media persons.

The victims, mostly residing of Laxmi Nagar slums, had consumed liquor at a country liquor bar in Malwani area on June 17 night.

Police have nabbed around 20 people following the tragedy and five are presently in police custody.

Two women bootleggers, who were arrested late Sunday, were sent to police custody till June 26.

The Maharashtra government has already cracked down on officials by suspending four excise department staffers on Saturday and eight police personnel on Friday.

The government is now planning to amend laws pertaining to the sale, storage and transportation of country liquor to avoid similar tragedies in future, officials said.

Excise Minister Eknath Khadse said his government plans to amend the Maharashtra Prevention of Dangerous Activities (MPDA) Act with proposals to take strong action for production and sale of hooch and against bootleggers.

He added that the state government was considering invoking the stringent MPDA Act and the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act against the bootleggers.

“Many people have been arrested in raids against bootleggers since January but they were released on bail. We will make provisions to ensure that the bootleggers don’t get bail for a year and a proposal to this effect will be brought before the cabinet,” Khadse said.

In a related move, Mumbai Police plan to make northern Mumbai free of country liquor by seizing all known stocks of hooch to prevent any further loss of lives, police officials said.

Country liquor is made in slums or forest areas of Thane and it reportedly comprises a brew of variety of dangerous ingredients, including dead reptiles and chemicals, to make it intoxicating and potent.

Leader of Opposition in Maharashtra assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil on Monday demanded Khadse’s resignation on moral grounds for failing to prevent the tragedy.

Vikhe-Patil, who visited the affected areas in Malwani and met the victims’ families, said it was sad that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had yet to make a visit and termed it as the state government’s “apathy” to the huge tragedy.

He also sought action against the medical and civic authorities and demanded that they should be booked for homicide for not taking timely action.

On Sunday, Education Minister Vinod Tawde visited the site and announced a compensation of Rs.100,000 to the relatives of each deceased.

In December 2004, 87 people died in two separate such incidents in Mumbai.