Bootleg liquor kills more than 130 in India's Assam state

The victims are mostly tea plantation workers from Golaghat and Jorhat districts of the northeastern Indian state.

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    People stand next to the bodies of tea plantation workers who died after consuming tainted liquor in Golaghat [Reuters]
    People stand next to the bodies of tea plantation workers who died after consuming tainted liquor in Golaghat [Reuters]

    Guwahati, India - More than 130 people have died after consuming spurious liquor in India's northeastern Assam state in the last 48 hours, authorities said.

    The victims, mostly tea plantation workers in Golaghat and Jorhat districts of Assam, were rushed to nearby hospitals on Thursday night.

    The death toll stood at 133, police said in a statement on Sunday, making it one of the deadliest bootleg liquor-related incidents ever in India.

    It came less than two weeks after more than 100 people died after drinking tainted alcohol in the northern Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

    Death toll likely to rise

    Health officials told Al Jazeera on Saturday the death toll was likely to increase as more than 300 people are still admitted in different hospitals in the state, some of them reported to be in critical condition.

    "The death toll might increase from Jorhat and Golaghat districts. It's a very unfortunate incident. We are taking utmost care to provide the best medical facilities," Assam's excise minister, Parimal Suklabaidya, told Al Jazeera.

    A paramedic tends to a tea plantation worker, who consumed bootleg liquor, inside a government-run hospital in Golaghat [Anuwar Hazarika/Reuters]

    The tea plantation workers consumed the tainted liquor laced with methyl alcohol, a chemical that attacks the central nervous system, on Thursday and started falling unconscious.

    Mamoni Telenga, 35, lost three members of her family. She said they fell ill during the night but they could only be brought to the hospital the next morning, where the doctors declared them dead.

    "My mother-in-law, brother-in-law and sister-in-law have died," Telenga told Al Jazeera.

    Puja Ghatowar's husband Rupjyoti is currently undergoing treatment at a hospital in Jorhat.

    "He came home vomiting and we immediately rushed to the health centre. I could see a gathering there and everyone had the same problem. The doctor told me to take him to Jorhat hospital for better treatment. He fell unconscious on the way," said.

    Government hospitals in nearby areas were overwhelmed as the number of patients increased. Assam's health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said they have called doctors from other hospitals to help.

    "Already doctors and experts from different centres have arrived and they are attending to the patients," Sarma told reporters at Jorhat Medical College and Hospital.

    Assam's Director General of Police Kuladhar Saikia said an investigation into the incident is under way.

    "A team of Criminal Investigation Department officials and forensic experts has been formed and 12 people have been picked up for interrogation. We will take strong action," Saikia told Al Jazeera.

    Suklabaidya added that seven suspects have been arrested so far by the police for their alleged involvement in producing illegal liquor.

    Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal visited the victims in a Jorhat hospital and announced an aid of 200,000 rupees ($2,820) to the relatives of the dead and 50,000 rupees ($704) for those undergoing treatment.

    Sonowal directed the hospital authorities to provide free treatment to the victims of the tragedy.

    Poor can't afford licensed liquor 

    Meanwhile, the opposition Congress has held the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government responsible, with senior Congress leader Debabrat Saikia saying the government is more focused on revenue generation than the safety of the people.

    "The government is solely responsible. They should have banned all these illegal liquor centres. This is very unfortunate and I think it's one of the worst in the country's history," Saikia told Al Jazeera. 

    The opposition leader demanded a grant of 1,000,000 rupees ($14,085) for the kin of the dead, and a judicial investigation into the matter.

    The wife of a tea plantation worker looks on as she stands next to her husband being treated in a corridor of a government hospital in Golaghat [Anuwar Hazarika/Reuters]

    Deaths from illegally brewed alcohol, known locally as hooch or country liquor, are common in India as licensed brands are unaffordable for many of the country's lowest-paid workers.

    According to the National Crime Records Bureau, about 1,000 people die in India every year because of these substances.

    In some of the worst cases in India, 200 people died in 1992 in Odisha state, 180 in West Bengal in 2011, and 100 in the city of Mumbai in 2015.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News