Toxic alcohol has now killed mroe than 70 people in India. What is the reason for the country's drinking problem?

Bootleg liquor is widely consumed across the country where it is sold extremely cheaply, with a local litre of spirit costing rthe equivalent of 13p

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The Independent Online

At least 74 people have died in Mumbai since Wednesday after drinking toxic home-made alcohol, local media has confirmed.

Residents of a slum in the Malad area fell ill on Wednesday night after drinking the bootleg liquor and there are fears that the death toll, which has already risen from 35 people yesterday, could increase further with several people still being treated in hospital after the incident.

According to Mumbai police most of the victims were labourers or rickshaw drivers from very poor backgrounds who had consumed the cheap liquor at a village bar.

Eight police officers have been suspended following the incident after they supposedly failed to clamp down the illegal liquor sellers, a Mumbai police official said.

This is the second worst recorded illicit alcohol tragedy to occur in the past 11 years in India, which appears to have a recurring problem with people becoming ill or dying from contaminated liquor that is sold illegally.

In 2004, 87 people died in a similar incident, also in Mumbai. Further incidents of mass alcohol poisoning include the death of 170 people  in the eastern state of West Bengal in 2011 after drinking moonshine and in the death of 31 people in January of this year near Lucknow in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh after drinking a deadly batch of home-brew.

Bootleg liquor - colloquially known as desi daroo in India - is widely consumed across the country where it is sold extremely cheaply, with a local litre of spirit costing roughly 10 rupees or 13 pence. The alcholol is usually sold door-to-door by salesman on bicycles or in local, make-shift bars.

Most of these incidents occur amid poor and deprived areas and it is reportedly rare for large scale poisoning to take place in a major city such as Mumbai , with most occurring in rural villages.

To increase the strength of the alcohol and improve the flavour chemicals and pesticides are often added to the alcohol which can lead to fits, vomiting, blindness and death.

Illicit liquor is a hugely profitable industry in India as bootleggers pay no taxes and sell huge quantities of their products, Johnson Edayaranmula, executive director of the Indian Alcohol Policy Alliance, told the Guardian.

It is estimated that 5 per cent of India’s 1.21 billion population are dependent on alcohol despite there being many religious and cultural taboos against drinking. According to The Lancet medical journal, two-thirds of the alcohol consumed in the country is illegal hooch made in remote villages or smuggled liquor.

India’s drinking problem is also feared to be a entrenched part of the country’s society. Jacob Varghese, 40 –year old health inspector from India’s southern state of Kerala, told the BBC that drinking is a “societal problem”, exacerbated by high unemployment, easy access to alcohol and the fact that drinking has become a “part of upwardly mobile living”.

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