The death toll from poisoning linked to toxic liquor in India’s northern state of Punjab rose to 105 on Monday, as police carried out a crackdown on the illicit alcohol trade in the state following the worst bootleg alcohol incident this year.
The toll soared from 21 on Friday after families reported deaths to administration officials over the Saturday to Sunday weekend. The first deaths were reported last Wednesday, and the number has continued to rise as poor farmers and workers fell ill after drinking the alcohol across three districts.
Eighty people died in the Tarn Taran district over the past five days, senior official Kulwant Singh told DPA news agency, while state police confirmed 25 deaths in nearby Amritsar and Batala.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh earlier said he had ordered a special inquiry into the deaths and “anyone found guilty will not be spared”.
The state government has suspended seven excise officials and six police officials even as opposition parties accused governing party leaders of “patronising [the] spurious liquor trade.”
In a crackdown, police conducted dozens of raids across villages – in which 30 bootleggers were arrested – and smashed illegal distilleries, seizing thousands of litres of tainted liquor.
Initial investigations revealed the liquor contained methanol, which can cause blindness and death when consumed in large amounts.
Deaths from illegally brewed alcohol, known locally as “hooch” or “country liquor”, are common in India, where the poor cannot afford licensed brands from government-run shops.
An average of 1,000 people die in India each year after consuming illegally distilled alcohol, government data shows. The liquor is usually made with poor-quality ingredients and sometimes mixed with industrial alcohol and toxic substances.
A total of 151 people, mostly tea-plantation workers, died after drinking toxic alcohol last year in one of the worst cases of liquor poisoning in India in recent years.