New Delhi – The number of people who have died after drinking illegally brewed alcohol in northern India rose to 72 on Saturday as authorities launched a crackdown and suspended police and officials.
At least 64 people had died in Saharanpur and Haridwar, adjoining districts of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand states, after drinking the poisonous liquor. The death toll had stood at 28 on Friday.
Eight more deaths were reported in another tragedy blamed on tainted liquor in Kushinagar district, also in Uttar Pradesh, regional official BD Gupta said.
In Saharanpur district, the death toll climbed from 16 to 36, top administrative official Alok Pandey told dpa by phone on Saturday.
The villagers had consumed the tainted liquor suspected of being laced with methanol on Thursday.
In the adjoining Haridwar district, the death toll had risen to 28, from 12 on Friday, broadcaster NDTV reported.
Twenty-two people were admitted to hospitals in Saharanpur but were in stable condition, Pandey said.
The Saharanpur police, who are working on the assumption that the alcohol may have come from the same source, arrested 30 people, many of them bootleggers. They seized hundreds of litres of tainted liquor in raids.
Authorities in the region also suspended over 30 officials, including 10 policemen, on charges of negligence or collusion in the illicit trade.
They vowed to take strict action against the accused, saying they would demand death penalty for those involved in the illicit trade once the case reaches court.
Later on Saturday, authorities in both states announced a compensation of 200,000 rupees (2,800 dollars) each to the relatives of those killed.
An average of 1,000 people, mostly from poorer sections of society, die in India each year after consuming illegally brewed alcohol, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.
The liquor is usually made with poor-quality ingredients and sometimes mixed with industrial alcohol and toxic substances. Deaths as a result of consuming such alcohol are in the headlines regularly.
In some of the worst cases of such poisoning, 200 people died in 1992 in Odisha state, 180 in West Bengal in 2011 and 100 in the city of Mumbai in 2015.