There is a magic that "manufactures" 2,000 litres of toddy for just Rs 500. This "magic" makes the business viable even after contractors pay Rs 60 each as bribe for a litre of the sap transported out of the district, and sold for Rs 100 to Rs 130 in the market.
The second part of the series, "Tapping Toddy's Taint," reveals the making of the toddy -- or what is passed on as the natural product in shops across the State. Read first part here, Fermenting greed in toddy bottles.
Toddy tastes differently in each district. Most shops sell "cocktails" that contain ingredients added to increase the potency, or "kick", of the drink.
The Excise department recently seized toddy that contained more than 10 ingredients. Some of the ingredients could not be identified even after a scientific laboratory test. Mixing previous day's fermented toddy to the fresh one, and adding spirit are the commonly practised methods.
The seizure of 1,200 litres of spirit stored in a toddy shop's hidden tanks at Seminarippady in Aluva a week ago, points at the enormity of the problem. Officials had also sealed a few shops in Idukki district after finding toddy spiked with ganja.
The samples collected from these shops showed the presence of cannabinoid, a group of compounds found in cannabis. Cannabinoid mixes with toddy when cloth pouches containing cannabis are kept dipped in the tapped sap for 24 hours.
Chittur and neighbouring areas have several "experts" who could manufacture 2,000 litres of toddy with ingredients worth Rs 500. The chemical kits, each costing Rs 500, are available in Pollachi. The potency of thus made large quantity of the drink could be increased by mixing spirit and a few pots of toddy. Such experts functioned out of each coconut grove earmarked for tapping.
Officials revealed that strict inspections, if carried out, could unearth highly fermented and stinking toddy as old as a week. Water, spirit, saccharin and silicone paste (titanium dioxide) are added to it to make "fresh," effervescent toddy.
According to "experts," one litre of old toddy, eight litres of spirit, silicone paste as required, saccharin and water could produce 1,500 litres of toddy. Of late, sodium lauryl sulfate in powder form is used for making spurious toddy. The chemical is known as "thuruthuruppan" in hooch makers' parlance. The chemical, used as a cleansing and foaming agent, is available in liquid form also. It is used to add foam to toddy.
There are also distributors who procure a limited quantity of toddy using the permit, and make enough drinks to distribute to several shops.
Most vehicles ferrying toddy to different parts of the state leave the coconut groves around 2 am - 3 am. The toddy is adulterated barely two hours before the mini-trucks depart for their destinations. Experts ensure that the alcohol content does not exceed 8.1 per cent.
No coconut trees? No problem!
The norm is that toddy shop licences are issued to those with 50 coconut trees and five tappers. But toddy could be sold without keeping to this norm. Such toddy is known by the codename, "vilakallu."
The permit to transport toddy could be organised from the district office if one takes a coconut grove at Chittur on lease. The licensee need not visit the office in person, nor the trees should be numbered (Coconut trees that are to be tapped are identified and numbered). The coconut grove owner and officials will arrange an agent. He will organise the permit.
The officials are not bothered about the licensee, since their "cut" will be ensured. But the commission, or "santhoshappanam" for "vilakkallu" is on the higher side.
Toddy from water
Toddy could be made using plain water and a few powders available in the market. Its potency could be increased using spirit or ganja. Interestingly, those who "make" toddy do not know all the ingredients that are used, except yeast and saccharin. The rest are "white powder", "foam powder," etc., for them.
Manorama was witness to the making of toddy at a grove near the state border. Water in a jerry can looks like toddy once the "white powder" is mixed. After "white powder", saccharin is added, followed by yeast and "foam powder, which gives the look, colour, and taste of toddy to plain water.
The liquid thus made was then transferred into a bigger container, to which half-a-pot of toddy was added. Workers there said even if the toddy is avoided, the liquid will have all the properties of toddy. But then, why was the toddy added? Pat came the answer: "There should be some truth, sir. We should not cheat anyone completely!"
3.27 lakh litres from Chittur
About 3.27 lakh litres of toddy tapped from some 1,200 groves are supplied to 12 districts in Kerala. The permits should be renewed twice a year. Annually, there are two toddy seasons, April to September, and October to March.
Toddy from Palakkad are supplied to Thiruvananthapuram and Kannur districts. Thiruvananthapuram has fewer shops, and they use locally tapped toddy. In Kannur, cooperative societies tap and supply toddy.
Mysterious case of Aluva shop
Two days after the bribe amount was seized in Palakkad, an excise team found an underground spirit tank at a toddy shop at Seminarippady in Aluva. The excise inspection, which took more than six hours, found ingredients used to manufacture toddy as well. The team, headed by excise enforcement chief T Anikumar, squad CI Krishnakumar and crime branch CI T V Sadayakumar, also seized 1,200 litres of spirit, 1.75 kilograms of silicone paste and 270 kilograms of saccharin. Such a huge amount of spirit was earlier found in a secret chamber in a raid conducted as part of the October 2000 Kalluvathukkal hooch tragedy.
The tank at Aluva shop was not easily visible. Excise officials noticed a particular area where empty jerry cans and garbage was found. Further inspection led them to the chamber where the spirit was stored. The cement tank was constructed over a layer of plywood, and a pipe connected to the tank transported spirit to the place where toddy was mixed.
Recordically, this shop was inspected once a week. Samples were collected to check the quality of toddy on May 16 also. Two days later, the raid was conducted and the spirit chamber was found.
The excise department has received information that the raided shop has benami links with several other outlets. Four excise officials were placed under suspension following a raid on the shop seven years ago. The raid sparked a controversy after samples collected from the shop turned out to be pure toddy on testing.