Methanol poisoning deaths due to Spurious alcohol in India- Explained Pointwise

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The Issue of Methanol poisoning deaths due to Spurious alcohol in India has generated fresh concerns, after the recent hooch tragedies claimed the lives of 22 people in the Villupuram and Chengalpattu districts of Chennai. The methanol poisoning deaths due to spurious alcohol have been a significant concern in India. The need is strict vigilance and enforcement of laws to prevent these unnatural deaths in India.

spurious alcohol
Source- The Indian Express
Table of Content
How are spurious alcohol produced in India? What are the different cases of Spurious Alcohol Poisoning Deaths in India?
What are the negative impacts of methanol poisoning deaths due to consumption of spurious alcohol in India?
What are the reasons behind the problem of methanol poisoning deaths due to spurious or illicit liquor?
What measures have been taken to address the problem of illicit liquor in India?
What should be the Way Forward to tackle illicit liquor?

How are spurious alcohol produced in India? What are the different cases of Spurious Alcohol related Poisoning Deaths in India?

How does the alcohol become spurious 

1. Methyl alcohol (methanol) and ammonium nitrate- Generally the alcohol becomes spurious due to the contamination by methyl alcohol or methanol to increase its alcohol content. Ammonium nitrate is also a major contaminant.

2. Unsafe distillation of Hooch- Unsafe distillation of ‘hooch‘ which is a derivative of cane sugar. The unsafe distillation leads to formation of methyl alcohol, which is dangerous for human health.

3. Contamination due to addition of herbs or chemicals- Certain herbs or chemicals which are added to the liquor to increase the strength or improve the flavor, react badly with other chemicals. These lead to formation of deadly chemicals.

Effect of Spurious Alcohol on Health

1. Toxicity of Methyl alcohol, or methanol- Methyl alcohol or methanol, which is commonly used for antifreeze, is added to illicit liquor to increase its alcohol content. Methanol is highly toxic to humans, and ingestion of just 10ml can result in blindness, and 30ml or more is usually fatal.

2. Adverse impact of ammonium nitrate- Ammonium nitrate may cause headache, dizziness, abdominal pain, vomiting, heart irregularities, convulsions, collapse, and death, when swallowed in high concentrations.

Recent Cases of Spurious Alcohol in India

1. Bihar- Bihar, a dry state since 2016, has witnessed several hooch tragedies. In early 2023, six people died in Nalanda district. In November 2021, another significant incident in the state led to the death of at least 30 people over three days.

2. Haryana- In November 2023, six people died in Yamunanagar district after consuming suspected spurious liquor.

3. Gujarat- Despite its status as a dry state, Gujarat has experienced severe hooch tragedies. In July 2022, more than 22 people died, and many others fell ill due to consuming spurious alcohol in Ahmedabad and Botad districts​.

4. Uttar Pradesh- The state has seen numerous hooch-related deaths over the years. In May 2021, 22 people died in the Azamgarh and Ambedkarnagar districts due to spurious liquor consumption.

What are the negative impacts of methanol poisoning deaths due to spurious alcohol in India?

Health Impacts

1. Acute Poisoning and Death- Spurious alcohol contains methanol, a toxic substance that can cause severe poisoning leading to coma and death if untreated.

2. Long-term Health Consequences- Survivors of methanol poisoning may suffer from permanent blindness, kidney failure, or other long-term neurological impairments due to the toxic effects of methanol on the body’s organs.

Social Impacts

1. Family Disruption- The sudden death or severe illness of a family member due to spurious alcohol consumption causes significant emotional and financial strain on families. This also leads to economic instability and psychological trauma.

2. Crime and Violence- The illegal production and distribution of spurious alcohol leads to increased crime rates, which includes violence and corruption.

3. Stigmatization- Victims of spurious alcohol poisoning and their families often face social stigma, which impacts their social relationships and community standing.

Economic Impacts

1. Increase in Healthcare Costs- The treatment of methanol poisoning and its long-term consequences places a substantial burden on the healthcare system.

2. Loss of Productivity- The deaths and disabilities caused by spurious alcohol consumption lead to a loss of productive workforce. This negatively affects local economies and reduces overall economic productivity.

What are the reasons behind the problem of methanol poisoning deaths due to spurious alcohol?

1. Unorganized and unregulated sector- Country-made liquor is mainly produced by local breweries. Huge unfulfilled demand for booze drives supply underground into an unregulated industry. This sector is prone to corruption and lack of regulation, which leads to hooch tragedy incidents.

2. Lack of regulatory controls- Illegal or illicit liquor is manufactured mostly in villages on farmlands where it is difficult to inspect the area by regulatory authorities. Hence the liquor produced is of substandard quality.

3. Easy availability of contaminants- Easy availability of methyl alcohol and the purchase of furniture polish by local vendors at nominal prices is used to produce illicit liquor.

4. Price- The difference in the prices of Indian Made Foreign liquor and illegal liquor, is also one of the main reasons for the rise in spurious liquor, as is it fills the demand for booze of population. According to WHO, ‘unrecorded and spurious‘ alcohol makes up more than half of all alcohol consumed in India.

5. Defiance of state policies- States like Bihar, Gujarat have enacted total prohibition on alcohol. However, defiance of state policies, has created a flourishing underground illicit liquor business supported by bordering states.

What measures have been taken to address the problem of illicit liquor in India?

Legal and Regulatory Measures

1. Prohibition Laws- States like Bihar and Gujarat have implemented complete prohibition laws. They have banned the sale and consumption of alcohol to curb the production and distribution of spurious liquor​.

2. Regulation of Methanol- The Food Safety and Standards (Alcoholic Beverages) Regulations 2018 stipulate the maximum permissible quantities of methanol in different types of liquor to prevent methanol poisoning.​

Enforcement Actions

1. Raids and Seizures- Law enforcement agencies frequently conduct raids on illegal distilleries and bootlegging operations. These raids often result in the seizure of large quantities of spurious alcohol and the arrest of those involved in its production and distribution​.

2. Legal Prosecutions- Individuals caught producing or selling spurious alcohol face severe legal consequences, including imprisonment and hefty fines, to deter such activities.

Health Interventions

1. Emergency Medical Response- Training healthcare providers to quickly identify and treat methanol poisoning, including the use of antidotes like ethanol and fomepizole, which can mitigate the toxic effects of methanol​.

What should be the Way Forward to tackle illicit liquor?

1. Targeting of illicit raw material like methanol- The administration should use local informants and their network to target the vendors which are responsible for selling sub-standard raw materials and poisonous chemicals used for making spurious liquor.

2. Timely inspections and raids- The state government should plan regular and massive raids in rural areas where there is major production of illicit liquor. It would help break down the links of illegal production units.

3. Uniform and comprehensive liquor use policy- A uniform and comprehensive policy should bring uniformity regarding liquor laws in all states. It should take into consideration measures like increasing the legal age of drinking, spreading awareness regarding de-addiction and rehabilitation centers & zero tolerance for illicit liquor.

4. Use of Technology- Utilization of GPS-equipped vehicles to track the movement of molasses and alcohol inside the state. Use of CCTV in distilleries and retail shops to curb illegal trade.

5. Establishment of Accessible Treatment Facilities- Establishing more treatment centers equipped to handle cases of alcohol poisoning, especially in rural and remote areas where spurious liquor incidents are more common.

Read More- The Hindu
UPSC Syllabus- GS 2- Issues related to Health
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