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Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 04 July 2024

  1. How Is Methanol Procured and used as Liquor?
  2. A Progressive Indian Policy on Myanmar Outlined


The Kallakurichi illicit liquor tragedy , which has claimed more than 50 lives, follows a distressingly familiar pattern in its cause, sequence of events, and aftermath. Such incidents occur periodically across various Indian states. Postmortem reports almost universally attribute the cause of death to methanol consumption.


  • GS2- Health
  • GS3- Science and Technology

Mains Question:

How is spurious alcohol produced in India? What are the various instances of spurious alcohol-related poisoning deaths in the country? (10 Marks, 150 Words).

How are Ethanol and Methanol made?

  • Ethanol, the legal form of alcohol for consumption, is produced biologically, whereas methanol is produced from fuels like coal in India.
  • Molasses, a by-product of the sugar-making process, serve as the starting material for distilleries often located near sugar factories.
  • These distilleries produce rectified spirit, which is further distilled to create extra neutral alcohol, used to make Indian Made Foreign Liquor, a significant revenue source for state governments.
  • During ethanol production in regulated distilleries, methanol is also produced but carefully removed due to highly controlled processes.
  • Methanol is derived from coal and other fossil fuels. While ethanol can be made safe for consumption, methanol is toxic and even in small amounts can be fatal.
  • Despite its toxicity, methanol is essential for producing a range of useful products, such as paints, which cannot be made without it.

Is Methanol Easy to Procure?

  • Like ethanol, methanol is a highly controlled substance. Regulations in Tamil Nadu ensure that its manufacturing, transportation, and storage are all licensed, monitored, and audited for quantity and quality.
  • In northern Tamil Nadu, much of the methanol used in industries comes from Andhra Pradesh.
  • Reports indicate a profitable methanol pilferage racket operating both en route and at the end-user level.
  • It is possible that methanol produced during the crude distillation process used by bootleggers in Kallakurichi wasn’t removed, leading to methanol poisoning.
  • However, the widespread contamination and scale of the Kallakurichi tragedy suggest that methanol was likely procured and supplied separately, either as part of a brew or on its own in diluted form.
  • Given that illicit liquor production and distribution have been ongoing in the area for many months, if not years, the use of methanol was not a one-off event specific to this tragic week in Kallakurichi.

Why is Methanol used?

  • Most hooch tragedies in India occur due to methanol contamination in liquor. There is a common, albeit misguided, belief that methanol, being relatively inexpensive but potent, if diluted enough, can mimic the effects of ordinary liquor, providing a state of intoxication or ‘kick’ for consumers.
  • In the 2015 Malvani, Mumbai hooch tragedy, where over 100 people died and about 75 were injured, prosecutors argued that the accused had entered into a criminal conspiracy and deliberately procured and supplied poisonous methanol.
  • The defense argued that the accused would not knowingly add methanol as it made no business sense and bootleggers, like those in Kallakurichi, live within the community and would not want to harm their own people.
  • In this case, the additional sessions judge acquitted 10 of the 14 accused, convicting four of criminal conspiracy and culpable homicide not amounting to murder, but did not find anyone guilty of violating the Poisons Act of 1919.

Way Forward:

  • The recurring incidents of methanol poisoning highlight the need for robust central legislation that complements state laws.
  • Strengthening laws such as the Poisons Act, which involves state governments, can help tighten the methanol supply chain.
  • Effective implementation of these laws is crucial, especially given plans to increase the production of both ethanol and methanol as cost-effective, eco-friendly alternatives to petrol and diesel for transportation.


The NITI Aayog has proposed increasing methanol production from two metric tonnes to twenty. Ensuring that methanol and ethanol remain separate and preventing any pilferage should be a national priority.


Three years after overthrowing the elected civilian government in February 2021, Myanmar’s military continues to inflict violence and displacement on its people. Despite this, India has maintained formal relations with the regime, which has killed over 5,000 people and displaced approximately 2.5 million. Indian foreign policy experts argue that maintaining relations with the junta is necessary to protect India’s “interests” in Myanmar, rather than being driven by “values.”


GS2- India and its Neighbourhood

Mains Question:

New Delhi’s stance of defining its ‘interests’ in Myanmar in narrow strategic terms needs to change. Discuss this in the context of India’s approach towards the Myanmar junta in terms of bilateral ties. (15 Marks, 250 Words).

Values v/s Interests:

  • In foreign policy, the distinction between “values” and “interests” is often blurred, as their definitions are not fixed and depend on the country’s perspective. This is true for India’s policy towards Myanmar as well.
  • Traditionally, New Delhi has viewed its “interests” in Myanmar in narrow strategic terms. However, it now needs to incorporate a unique set of “values” to better defend its interests.
  • India can adopt a more progressive, values-driven policy towards Myanmar that aligns with its national interests.

New Approach:

This new approach should focus on two main aspects: democracy and human security. The new National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government should immediately take four interconnected steps to implement this policy.

India as the Largest Federal Democracy:

  • First, India should leverage its status as the largest federal democracy in the region to enhance its influence in Myanmar.
  • Myanmar’s pro-democracy political elites and civil society have long admired India’s federal democratic union and its effective power-sharing arrangements between the central and regional governments.
  • This admiration is even more pertinent now, as Myanmar’s democratic resistance—led by the National Unity Government (NUG), numerous ethnic revolutionary organizations, civil society groups, and trade unions—seeks to replace the military-drafted 2008 constitution with a federal one.
  • By supporting this opposition through capacity-building and knowledge exchange programs, India can set itself apart from China, its main regional competitor in Myanmar.
  • While both Beijing and New Delhi can supply military hardware to Myanmar, only India can promote the spirit of federal cooperation.
  • This presents an opportunity for the new Indian government to outmaneuver China in their shared region.

Cease Weapon Sales to Myanmar:

  • Second, India must immediately cease all weapons sales to the Myanmar military. The advocacy group Justice For Myanmar (JFM) has reported that Indian state-owned military hardware manufacturers have sold various non-lethal and semi-lethal equipment to the junta since the 2021 coup.
  • Their latest report, published on March 27, revealed that on January 2, the Indian Air Force transferred a package containing 52 items, including navigation and communication parts, to its Myanmar counterpart.
  • Another investigation by Frontier Myanmar found that India has sold over $1.5 million worth of navy-grade diesel to junta-linked entities since the coup.
  • New Delhi must halt these transactions, as the Myanmar military continues to use all three of its services—the army, air force, and navy—to attack non-combatant civilians with indiscriminate lethal tactics.

Establish Cross-Border Humanitarian Corridors:

  • Third, India should promptly establish cross-border humanitarian corridors to assist civilians affected by the conflict in the border regions of Sagaing, Chin, and northern Rakhine.
  • According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), Sagaing Region has experienced the highest internal displacement in Myanmar since the coup (as of March 25, 2024), followed by Rakhine and Chin State.
  • Ongoing air strikes by the junta and clashes between armed groups have forced more civilians to flee across the borders.
  • New Delhi should first revoke its plans to fence the India-Myanmar border and reinstate the Free Movement Regime (FMR), which the Union Home Ministry suspended in February 2024.
  • Next, India should collaborate with existing humanitarian aid networks along the border to deliver emergency relief, including medicines, food, and tarpaulins, to affected areas.
  • Mizoram, which already has a robust asylum and aid system in place, could serve as a starting point. India should also partner with local and international NGOs experienced in humanitarian aid.
  • Adopting best practices from Thailand, which recently began cross-border aid deliveries into Myanmar, would be beneficial.
  • India should ensure that the aid is not distributed by the junta, which has a poor track record and lacks control over large areas along the India-Myanmar border.
  • It is possible to run cross-border aid corridors effectively while preventing contraband from passing through by implementing stringent checks and pre-delivery vetting.

Detention of Asylum Seekers:

  • Fourth, the government should immediately stop detaining and deporting asylum seekers from Myanmar.
  • This is especially critical in Manipur, where the BJP-led government has deported 115 asylum seekers to Myanmar, with the latest deportations occurring on June 11.
  • These individuals entered India out of necessity, not by choice or with malicious intent.
  • Despite India not having ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention, the government has a responsibility to treat these people as refugees in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, rather than as “illegal immigrants.” Both the Indian Constitution and international law support this approach.
  • The principle of non-refoulement, a customary international law, discourages deporting refugees to a country where they face persecution or death.
  • The central government should also urge the BJP-led Assam government to release the 27 Chin refugees currently detained in the state and provide them with humane shelter.


India, often referred to as the “Vishwabandhu” (friend of the world), claims to stand with the people of Myanmar. It is time for India to act on these claims.

July 2024