On December 28, a crucial lead reached the state Excise Department indicating that bags of chloral hydrate, used as an adulterant agent in toddy, were stocked at a spot in Bhiwandi. The department’s flying squad reached in real time to seize 5,700 kilograms of chloral hydrate— a muscle relaxer — listed in the Poison Act 1919.
While the “input” is still being worked on— with the department hunting for the factory— the raid is being now viewed as a success of two initiatives. For, according to officials, this particular case is being seen as an indicator of the long drawn battle against chloral hydrate laced toddy and the new digital interface, which ensures transparency and protection for informers. The raid at the factory, which continued till late night Thursday confirm officials will also prise open networks which operate out of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh the two toddy consuming states which source the deadly adulterant from Maharashtra.
The informer interface which kicked off on October.2 has seen an increase in leads coming from across rural Maharashtra and suburbs on illicit production, sale and transport of adulterated liquor, duplicate scotch, illegal bottling, MRP violations, and illegal transactions of molasses.
Between October 2 and December 31, the department received 1544 genuine complaints which have been processed with arrests and raids, with the maximum cases probed being from Pune (124 cases), Ahmednagar (122) and Nashik (112).
A complete 360-degree digital interface sees real time information relayed on toll free number 18008333333 and through WhatsApp and Excise Complaints App.
The first department to have flying squads follow up on leads, the interface is also designed to ensure the informer’s identification is not relayed to field officers. “If the informer is not satisfied with the action taken, further visits are made to the crime scene with additional information,” said an officer involved in vigilance.
A state of art control room allows for live monitoring of the flying squad to ensure transparency with a double layer of geo-mapping backed checks in place to track the movements of officials on the ground.
The lead is also a big boost in the three month drive against chloral hydrate. In October 2016, excise officers armed with a kit of sodium hydroxide and pyridine – chemicals which disturb the adulterant, found that most toddy shops use chloral hydrate, listed as a psychotropic drug, to mix with toddy. “The first policy level decision we took was to ensure that only talukas with 2000 toddy trees get license for the shop. This was after the raids. In places where the drink is transported over a distance and consumed after five hours, it loses its properties. The illicit cartel then adopts, adding chloral hydrate to the drink to give it the effect of an intoxicant which is poisonous,” says V Radha, Commissioner, State Excise Department. “In the last two months, 700 of the total 1500 toddy shops across the state have been shut. As of today there is no toddy shop in Mumbai city and the only few shops stand limited towards Gorai or in Thane suburbs as it has trees from where toddy is tapped in the vicinity. The flying squads continue to do live sampling of chloral hydrate in shop sales. The State government has also stopped auctioning shops if the criteria are not met and only talukas and rural points are allowed to have them.”
Toddy, a local favourite, is consumed by migrant labourers and a few communities from the south of India. In cities in Maharashtra, the excise department found a huge lobby of owners from a particular community in Hyderabad.
“For now, this informer backed lead has helped in tracking the transporter and faulty invoices showing magnesium sulphate. The informer stands protected. Further, these leads also help in exposing bigger cartels which the previous traditional intelligence gathering was not helping.,” said a senior official.