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India bootleg alcohol death toll tops 170
Number of dead expected to rise after mass poisoning in West Bengal leaves hundreds critically ill in hospital.
Last Modified: 16 Dec 2011 11:33
Victims of Tuesday's alcohol poisoning are from 10 villages in an area near West Bengal's border with Bangladesh 

The death toll from a mass poisoning in eastern India caused by toxic home-brewed alcohol has risen to 170, as
police made more arrests in the case.

"We now have 170 confirmed dead," Shyamapada Basak, a health services director of West Bengal state told the AFP news agency on Friday.

He added that authorities expected the toll to rise even further as another 145 people were critically ill in local hospitals.

Police said they had arrested another two people, taking the number detained to 12 over the past two days.

'Illicit liquor'

"We are now looking for Khonra Badsha, the kingpin of the racket involving the sale of illicit, spurious liquor in the district," Surojit Kar Purokayastha, a West Bengal police official, told AFP.

The victims of Tuesday's alcohol poisoning are from 10 villages in an area near West Bengal's border with Bangladesh.

Authorities expect the toll to rise even further as another 145 people are critically ill in local hospitals

Speaking in the state assembly, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the home-made liquor industry had "assumed the proportions of a small-scale industry".

She said "political intervention" made it difficult for police to crack down on the illegal liquor trade.

Many of the victims were labourers and rickshaw drivers too poor to afford branded alcohol who stopped for a drink at illegal bars or bought from bootleggers after work.

Local hospitals have been overwhelmed by victims arriving either unconscious or complaining of abdominal pains and burning in their chests.

Police official Purokayastha said that a forensic team was working to ascertain the chemical ingredients in the toxic brew.

Earlier on Thursday, district magistrate Narayan Swarup Nigam told AFP that methanol had been detected in at least 20 victims.

Methanol is a highly toxic form of alcohol sometimes used as an anti-freeze or fuel, but also added by producers of "moonshine" or home-brew liquor to increase the alcoholic content of the drink.

If ingested, it can cause blindness and liver damage and it kills in larger concentrations.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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