Hooch tragedy claims 150 lives in Assam; Golaghat worst affected region as mass alcohol poisoning grips North East after UP, Bihar

Hundreds of mainly poor people die each year in India from tainted liquor, which normally costs just a few US cents a bottle. Cheap, locally made booze is common in rural parts and bootleggers often add methanol — a highly toxic form of alcohol sometimes used as an antifreeze — to their product to increase its strength.

Agence France-Presse February 25, 2019 12:14:34 IST
Hooch tragedy claims 150 lives in Assam; Golaghat worst affected region as mass alcohol poisoning grips North East after UP, Bihar
  • The deaths in Assam state came less than two weeks after tainted liquor killed around 100 people in the northern states of UP and Uttarakhand

  • The victims, who include many women, worked at local tea estates in the region

  • Of the estimated five billion litres of alcohol drunk every year in India, around 40 percent is illegally produced

At least 58 more workers have died in northeastern India after drinking toxic liquor, police said on Sunday, taking the death toll from the latest mass alcohol poisoning beyond 150. The deaths in Assam state came less than two weeks after tainted liquor killed around 100 people in the northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

At least 200 others were still receiving treatment in hospitals across Assam. "A total of 85 people have died in Golaghat district due to consumption (of toxic alcohol)," Dhiren Hazarika, deputy commissioner of the worst affected region, told AFP. "Another 100 are undergoing treatment... The rush of new patients has (only) slowed down today afternoon," he added.

Hooch tragedy claims 150 lives in Assam Golaghat worst affected region as mass alcohol poisoning grips North East after UP Bihar

Victims of the hooch tragedy in Assam were admitted to the hospital. News18

Samir Sinha, Assam's principal health secretary, told AFP that 71 deaths had been confirmed in neighbouring Jorhat district by Sunday afternoon. "131 people, including 13 critical patients, are undergoing treatment at hospitals in Jorhat," he said. "What is happening is also a kind of fear psychosis. Many locals, even if they took (illegal alcohol) four or five days back, are worried and reporting (for check-ups) at the local medical facilities," he added.

Sinha said that additional teams of medical personnel and supplies had been rushed to the affected districts. Police said people started falling sick after consuming a batch of illegally produced liquor late Thursday. The victims, who include many women, worked at local tea estates in the region.

Doctors said those rushed to hospital in critical condition were suffering from severe vomiting, extreme chest pain and breathlessness. "A total of ten people have been arrested. We have sent the samples of the liquor... to a forensic laboratory. The report is awaited," Mukesh Agarwala, additional director general of state police, told AFP on Sunday.

Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal has ordered an inquiry into the deaths. Apart from the arrests, two excise department officials were suspended for failing to take adequate precautions over the sale of the alcohol. Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma vowed those responsible for the tainted liquor would be brought to justice.

Hundreds of mainly poor people die each year in India from tainted liquor, which normally costs just a few US cents a bottle. Cheap, locally made booze is common in rural parts and bootleggers often add methanol — a highly toxic form of alcohol sometimes used as an antifreeze — to their product to increase its strength.

If ingested in large quantities, methanol can cause blindness, liver damage and death. Many drinkers in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand were taken to hospital earlier this month in writhing pain after drinking illicit alcohol. About 100 people died after consuming the tainted moonshine.

In 2015, more than 100 people died in a Mumbai slum after drinking illegal liquor. Of the estimated five billion litres of alcohol drunk every year in India, around 40 percent is illegally produced, according to the International Spirits and Wine Association of India.

Many Indian states have implemented or pushed for prohibition, which, according to critics, further increases the unsupervised manufacture and sale of alcohol. Bihar, one of India's poorest states, banned alcohol in 2016. But just months after prohibition took effect, 16 people died after consuming toxic liquor. The entire staff of a local police station in the eastern state were suspended for "dereliction of duty" and failure to stop bootlegging.

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