India bootleg alcohol death toll rises to 98 as families mourn

Punjab police have so far arrested at least 25 people and conducted more than 100 raids across three districts. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (AFP) - The death toll from a toxic bootleg alcohol scandal in the north Indian state of Punjab rose to 98 on Sunday (Aug 2), officials and reports said.

Police have arrested 25 people so far over the worsening tragedy, which starting coming to light late last week, the Press Trust of India news agency said.

Hundreds of people die every year in India from illegal alcohol made in backstreet distilleries which sells for as little as 10 rupees (18 Singapore cents) a litre, affordable for even the poorest.

The death toll from the illicit booze had risen to 75 in Punjab's Tarn Taran district after further investigation, the local administration's deputy commissioner Kulwant Singh said.

"Several families refused to divulge details of deaths and a few even cremated them. We have come to this number after information gathering," deputy commissioner Singh told AFP on Sunday.

A further 11 people had died in Gurdaspur district, a local official told AFP.

PTI reported on Saturday that toxic moonshine had also killed 12 in Amritsar.

Relatives of the victims mourned on Sunday as the state opposition party called on the Punjab government to "curb liquor mafia in the state" in a series of tweets.

Punjab state chief minister Amarinder Singh said on Friday he had ordered a special inquiry into the deaths and "anyone found guilty will not be spared".

In a separate incident, authorities in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh said on Friday that nine people had died after drinking alcohol-based sanitiser.

Of the estimated five billion litres of alcohol drunk every year in India, around 40 per cent is illegally produced, according to the International Spirits and Wine Association of India.

Deaths are frequently reported, with bootleggers often found adding methanol - a highly toxic form of alcohol sometimes used as an anti-freeze - in their brews to increase its strength.

If ingested, methanol can cause blindness, liver damage and death in larger concentrations.

In 2015, more than 100 people in a Mumbai slum died after drinking illegal moonshine.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.