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Mumbai hooch tragedy: Excise Department raids illicit liquor unit in SGNP

Mumbai: Following a mid-day report exposing the rampant hooch-brewing inside Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), the state Excise Department conducted a raid yesterday and destroyed one such unit in the Saibhangoda tribal hamlet, along the Vihar lake.

The flying squad of the Excise Department raided the area on Tuesday morning. According to the officials, no one was caught in the incident, as, sensing that a raid might be conducted, the involved people fled the scene before the squad arrived.

Prasad Surve, director, enforcement and vigilance, state Excise department, said, “The vigilance team and our flying squad raided the forested patch of SGNP next to the Vihar lake pipeline, and destroyed a unit that was operational. Raw material worth R26,400 was also recovered from the spot.”

When questioned if a Forest Department team was also present during the raid, Surve said, “Technically they should not have allowed this brewing of illicit liquor in their jurisdiction. This is nothing but encroachment in the forest. So they must prohibit any private person from entering the forest.”

“The forest department should conduct regular visits to stop any illegal activity,” said another Excise official. mid-day’s Tuesday report (‘A hundred deaths later, it’s business as usual for hooch units in National Park’) had highlighted a hooch-brewing unit in the middle of Vihar lake – where the brewers reached by using rubber tubes or thermocol sheets.

Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Western Region) Suresh Thorat had told this reporter that reaching the island was not possible since they didn’t have boats. Now the SGNP authorities claim the Vihar lake area comes under the jurisdiction of the Thane forest department.

Anwar Ahmed, acting chief conservator of forest, SGNP, said, “The Vihar lake and the island do not come under the jurisdiction of SGNP, but of the Thane forest department.” Meanwhile, the Excise Department is planning to procure some boats to reach the island on which a hooch unit was noticed.

Need to act
Tuesday morning’s raid constitutes a minor victory against hooch makers. A local from the area, requesting anonymity, said there are other spots under the SGNP’s jurisdiction where hooch is being brewed in full flow.

“The people who set up these units are locals who know the trails in the forest better than any other outsider. In order to stop this completely, the forest department should spread their network among the tribals. People should be educated about the health hazards of illicit liquor. Once they develop their sources, the FD will get accurate information about these liquor-brewing units,” explained the locals.

A nature lover who recently visited the Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary (TWS) noticed an illegal liquor-brewing apparatus and captured it on his camera. “It is really sad that such activities are on in the core forest area but the SGNP authorities and officials posted at TWS are least concerned. There needs to be more patrolling in the forest; this is the only way to know the real picture of these illicit activities,” he said.

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