Death toll from alcohol poisoning case in Mumbai rises to 74

Relatives of people who died of consumption of poisonous liquor claim the bodies at Bhagwati Municipal General Hospital in Mumbai, India on June 19, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

MUMBAI (AFP) - The death toll from India's latest incident of mass alcohol poisoning following the consumption of toxic homemade liquor rose to 74 on Saturday, Mumbai police said.

Dhananjay Kulkarni, police deputy commissioner in the western Indian city, told AFP the number who had died from drinking the moonshine had increased from 53 late on Friday.

"Seventy-four have now died and 21 are receiving treatment in hospital," he said, adding that the toll was expected to increase further.

Victims first started to fall ill on Wednesday morning after consuming the illegal booze and patients were still being admitted to hospital on Saturday, the commissioner said.

Five people have so far been arrested for distributing and selling the alcohol in a slum in the suburb of Malad West, in the north of the city.

Eight police officers have also been suspended for "negligence" for allowing the sale to take place on their patch, Kulkarni said.

An investigation is taking place on whether high levels of methanol were present in the moonshine, often called "country liquor" in India.

Methanol, a highly toxic form of alcohol used as anti-freeze or fuel, is often added to bootleg liquor in India as a cheap and quick method of upping the alcohol content.

Unlicenced liquor is widely consumed across India where it is sometimes sold for less than a dollar for a 25cl bottle, with deaths frequently reported.

It is rare, however, for such incidents to occur in a major city like Mumbai, with most cases taking place in poor, rural villages.

It is the worst case of its kind to be recorded in Mumbai since 2004 when around 100 people died.

In January, more than 31 people died near Lucknow in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh after drinking a lethal batch of home brew.

And police arrested 12 people in October 2013 after more than three dozen villagers died from toxic liquor also in Uttar Pradesh.

In 2011, nearly 170 people died in the eastern state of West Bengal after drinking moonshine.

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