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Data: More than 22000 Deaths Reported due to Consumption of Illicit Liquor Since 2002


Data from the NCRB’s ADSI reports indicates that more than 22000 deaths were reported due to consumption of spurious/illicit liquor since 2022. The 5 states of Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh—have collectively accounted for half of the total deaths due to illicit liquor consumption since 2012.

In a heartbreaking incident in Kallakurichi, Tamil Nadu, at least 63 people have lost their lives, and dozens more have been hospitalized after consuming illicit liquor, commonly known as hooch. This deadly concoction continues to turn celebrations into tragedies, leaving a trail of grief and loss in its wake.

This tragedy is not isolated; multiple states have reported fatalities linked to the consumption of spurious liquor. The incident casts a sombre shadow as we mark 15 years since a devastating event in May 2008, when around 180 individuals perished due to similar circumstances. The persistence of such tragedies calls for a deep examination of several intertwined factors: economic disparities, regulatory failures, and societal pressures.

Often referred to as “hooch” or “illicit liquor,” this dangerous concoction preys on the vulnerable. Its consumption has led to numerous fatalities, highlighting a dark underbelly of our society that thrives on exploitation and neglect, as these illicit concoctions are often brewed in secrecy and sold cheaply, where hooch is frequently laced with toxic substances like methanol to enhance its potency. The lure of profit often outweighs safety concerns, leading to fatal consequences, thereby endangering public health. 

In today’s story, we look at the statistics related to the cases and fatalities due to illicit liquor consumption.

The Secret Recipe of Hooch and Its Deadly Transformation

Making alcohol involves two main processes: fermentation and distillation. Fermentation uses yeast or bacteria to turn sugars from grains, fruits, or sugarcane into ethanol, the alcohol in drinks. This gives different drinks their alcohol levels: beer has about 5%, wine is about 12%, and strong spirits like whiskey can reach up to 40%.

Distillation is crucial for making stronger alcohol. It separates alcohol from the rest of the mix by evaporating and condensing it. This step is vital because high alcohol levels can be harmful. Illicit liquor, like hooch, is made by distilling fermented mixtures using local yeast and sugar.

But the mix used for distillation isn’t just ethanol. It also contains methanol (CH3OH), a toxic form of alcohol. Ethanol and methanol have different boiling points—78.37°C for ethanol and 64.7°C for methanol—so they concentrate during distillation. If distillation isn’t done right, the final product can have dangerous levels of methanol instead of just a little. Commercial distillers use advanced equipment and rigorous checks to ensure the accuracy and safety of the distillation process. This equipment allows them to control temperatures precisely, which is crucial for separating alcohol from harmful substances like methanol effectively.

In contrast, hooch-makers operate without such controls. They lack temperature regulation during distillation, which compromises the accuracy of the process. This lack of precision increases the risk of producing hooch that contains dangerous levels of methanol, posing serious health hazards to consumers. Drinking methanol-laced hooch is very risky. It can cause serious health problems like brain swelling, bleeding, and even death. 

The scariest part is that hooch looks like any other drink, so it’s hard to know if it’s safe until it’s too late.

A diagram of a distillation process
Source: Pinterest

2022 Marks Second Lowest Illicit Liquor Consumption Cases in Two Decades

The National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) compiles annual data on accidental deaths, suicides, and incidents of poisoning in India. The ADSI report categorizes poisoning incidents into subtypes such as food poisoning, spurious or poisonous liquor, leakage of toxic gases, snakebites or animal bites, and others.

In terms of spurious liquor consumption, the data for 2022 marks the second lowest figures in the past two decades, with only 507 reported cases. This is notably below the average of 1017 cases. The peak year was 2014, recording 1797 cases, followed by a gradual decline in subsequent years, except 2016. Over the period from 2002 to 2022, the cumulative tally of spurious liquor cases exceeds twenty-one thousand.

Over 22,000 Lives Lost to Spurious Liquor in Two Decades

The consumption of spurious liquor can be deadly. Data on deaths resulting from illicit liquor consumption reveals that over the past two decades, more than 22,000 lives have been lost. In 2022, there were 617 reported deaths, marking the third lowest figure following 513 deaths in 2003 and 497 deaths in 2013. On average, approximately 1,050 deaths per year have been attributed to the consumption of illicit liquor. Like the cases, deaths also peaked in 2014, with almost 1700 deaths.

5 States Drive Half of last decade’s Illicit Liquor Deaths

State-wise data reveals that five states—Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh—have collectively accounted for half of the total deaths due to illicit liquor consumption since 2012. Madhya Pradesh leads with 1797 deaths, followed by Karnataka with 1537, Punjab with 1191, Chhattisgarh with 932, and Uttar Pradesh with 874 deaths. Among the large states, West Bengal recorded the fewest deaths at 31 since 2012, followed by Tamil Nadu with 42 deaths and Kerala with 47 deaths.

Tailored and Targeted interventions are the need of the hour.

Multiple factors contribute to the persistent supply of illicit alcohol in India. These include a lack of consumer awareness, weak enforcement of regulations that allow illegal products to proliferate, disparate tax policies that make illicit beverages more affordable, and restrictions limiting access to legitimate products. Tackling the illicit alcohol market is crucial for developing economies, though there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Some approaches might increase costs and burdens without yielding long-term benefits.

Illicit alcohol trade is not an isolated issue; it requires coordinated action from various stakeholders, including customs, excise, tax authorities, health, and regulatory bodies. It’s essential to analyse the scale and nature of illicit alcohol activities—whether smuggling, domestic counterfeiting, or illicit production—to tailor solutions effectively. Comprehensive alcohol policies, stronger enforcement, intergovernmental partnerships, and collaboration with legitimate industry players can collectively disrupt the illicit market.


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