Kerala, Tamil Nadu join hands to fight 'killer spirit'

Thiruvananthapuram, Sep 9 (IANS) With liquor flowing freely as Onam draws near, Tamil Nadu and Kerala will join hands to ensure that "spirit" does not cross borders freely.

Spirit, or extra neutral alcohol, the raw material for making what is curiously known as India Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL), is manufactured in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. A few days ago, authorities in Kerala seized about 5,500 litres of spirit brought into the state illegally from near Kollam, about 70 km from the state capital.

While the nearly 15 distilleries and two breweries in Kerala get spirit according to their licence, a huge quantity of the substance flows into the state through unscrupulous agents who supply it illegally to toddy shops, where it is mixed with toddy, the fermented sap taken from coconut or palm trees.

Toddy, a popular drink in Kerala long before hard liquor entered the market, is often adulterated with spirit to increase the quantity of the sap, at a time when demand for the intoxicant soars during festive occasions. Once toddy is mixed with spirit, its potency as an intoxicant also goes up several fold. If the concentration of the spirit in the drink is high, the mix can be fatal.

For the poor daily labourer, for instance, toddy mixed with spirit offers the high (the "kick", in local parlance) that arack, the cheap spirit, once offered. Arack was banned in the state in 1996.

Each toddy shop has its own toddy tappers, people who climb the trees to extract the sap, who are required to provide a certain quantity of the drink every day to the more than 4,000 toddy shops in the state.

On an occasion like Onam, when demand for toddy is high, shops are often not able to meet it, and chances of adulteration are higher.

"High ranking officials from the Tamil Nadu excise department were here last Saturday and held discussions with our officials, and have assured complete support to see that all measures are taken to see that there is no illegal transport of spirit into our state," a top official in the state excise department told IANS.

"Spirit usually makes its way into Kerala in big plastic containers tucked away in secret chambers of lorries. To cater to the added demand for the substance at the time of Onam, luxury cars too are used to transport the substance," the official said.

The official added that this year would also be the first time that the Tamil Nadu and Kerala excise departments are meeting to prevent illegal transport of spirit.

"We have decided to effectively see that there will be no illegal entry of spirit," the official said.

"For the first time in many years there has been a one percent negative growth in liquor sales in the state as compared to the period from 2012 April to 2012 July. One reason for that is the unusually heavy monsoon rain, which gave working class people little work and low income. We have to be doubly careful that during Onam season, no smuggling of spirit takes place," the official said.

(Sanu George can be contacted at sanu.g@ians.in)

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