At least 10 more people have died in India’s western state of Gujarat after having drunk spurious liquor, taking the toll in the incident to 38, state officials said.
Police launched an investigation and made six arrests after 51 people affected in Monday’s incident in the state’s adjoining districts of Ahmedabad and Botad were admitted to hospital, in addition to the deaths.
“Some of the hospitalised persons who were in critical condition passed away overnight,” police official Ashok Kumar Yadav told Reuters news agency on Wednesday.
“They had consumed methyl alcohol which was almost undiluted, believing it to be liquor.”
The manufacture, consumption and sale of alcohol are banned in Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state. There are some government-authorised liquor shops where residents with special health permits and foreigners can buy alcohol.
Critics say the alcohol ban encourages peddling of illegal and often tainted liquor that is brewed without any regulation.
The victims in Gujarat were mostly villagers, police officials said.
Preliminary laboratory tests indicated that chemicals including methanol were present in the liquor mix, regional police official Ashok Kumar Yadav said. A large amount of suspected spurious alcohol has been seized in raids.
Ashish Gupta, Gujarat state’s police chief, said several suspected bootleggers who were involved in selling the spiked alcohol have been arrested.
“We have taken the incident very seriously and a detailed investigation has been launched,” Gujarat’s home secretary Raj Kumar said.
Deaths from illegally brewed alcohol, popularly called hooch or country liquor, are common in India, where illicit liquor is cheap and often spiked with chemicals such as pesticides to increase potency, making it a hugely profitable industry.
Methyl alcohol, also known as wood alcohol, is unsafe for human consumption and finds use in products from paint thinners to fuel, pesticides and anti-freeze, among others.
This is the second major incident in which spurious liquor has caused a large number of deaths in the past year.
In November, more than 30 people died in the eastern state of Bihar, where, like Gujarat, there is an alcohol ban.
In 2020, at least 120 people died after drinking tainted liquor in Punjab state that neighbours Gujarat.