Bootleg liquor with toxic additive kills 140

Villagers in West Bengal destroy shops that sold poison drink while police round up suspects

More than 140 people have died and many others made seriously ill in the east of India after consuming illegally made alcohol with a poisonous additive designed to give the spirit an extra kick. It is feared the death toll could yet rise further.

Officials in the state of West Bengal said villagers in the south of the state started falling ill earlier this week after consuming the liquor bought from shops alongside a railway track. Soon, dozens were vomiting, complaining of terrible headaches and frothing at the mouth. People were ferried to a series of hospitals, taken there by relatives and the emergency services. Furious villagers later destroyed the shops that had sold the alcohol and police arrested 10 alleged bootleggers.

Last night, the chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, vowed that there would be a full investigation into what had happened. “Consumption of illicit liquor is a social disease and this has to be eradicated. I want help from everybody and let’s not politicise the issue,” she said.

The incident that played out at the village of Sangrampur, south of Kolkata, is all too common in India. Every week, there are reports from cities and villages across the country of people dying after drinking the so-called “hooch”, which sells for a handful of rupees and is bought by labourers, rickshaw-pullers and farmers.

Reports suggest the production and sale of such alcohol is hugely profitable. But manufacturers often mix their product with other chemicals, such as methanol, which can cause blindness and death if consumed in sufficient quantities. Some reports suggest that two-thirds of all alcohol consumed in India is manufactured in this way. It costs around a third of the price of that which is sold in government-sanctioned shops.

Such is the scale of the problem that the authorities in the state of Gujarat, where there is a ban on all alcohol, have recently sanctioned the death sentence for those involved in the production and sale of illegal alcohol which kills people. The move followed the deaths of 157 people who succumbed after consuming a deadly batch of liquor in the city of Ahmedabad in 2009. At least 180 people died in 2008 in the southern city of Bangalore in similar circumstances.

Officials in West Bengal are concerned that more could yet die as a result of the poisonous brew, according to the Press Trust of India. Shikha Adhikari, chief medical officer for the district authority told reporters gathered at the hospital in Diamond Harbour: “The hooch toll has risen to 140 and over 350 are still in three different hospitals, many of whom are still battling for life.”

Police reportedly believe the alcohol came from an illegal distillery located in a village called Mograhat. It is said to supply up to 70 shops in the area. While 10 arrests have been made, police are still searching for the owner of the operation.

The alcohol deaths come just days after more than 90 people died when fire broke out in a hospital in Kolkata. Officials have accused hospital staff of saving themselves and leaving patients to fend for themselves. Several directors of the hospital have been charged over the deaths.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there