Indian policemen suspended over deadly moonshine

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Indian authorities have suspended 15 police officers for negligence after 16 people died from drinking suspected toxic liquor in a state which recently introduced prohibition, an official said Friday (Aug 19).

The entire staff of a local police station in the eastern state of Bihar were suspended for "dereliction of duty" amid an inquiry to establish their role in the deaths thought to have been caused by drinking moonshine.

Three more people who were taken ill after drinking the brew on Tuesday died on Thursday, taking the overall death toll to 16. Four others are still in a critical condition.

"All the officers were suspended and we are investigating their role," Raviranjan Kumar, Gopalgunj district police chief told AFP.

Kumar said the policemen had failed to stop bootlegging despite a ban on sale and consumption of alcohol in the state.

Seven alleged bootleggers have been arrested while an equal number are sought by police, he said.

Postmortem reports have failed to establish liquor poisoning but investigators say they have enough evidence to proceed against the suspended police.

One of India's poorest states, Bihar brought in prohibition in April after its chief minister, Nitish Kumar, was elected on a pledge to crack down on widespread alcohol abuse.

Bihar is one of a string of Indian states where alcohol is banned, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state of Gujarat.

Hundreds of poor people who cannot afford branded liquor die every year in India from drinking cheap and toxic hooch.

Last month, 33 people died in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh state after drinking toxic brew.

Bootleggers often add methanol - a highly toxic form of alcohol sometimes used as an anti-freeze or fuel - to their home-brew liquor to increase the alcoholic content.

If ingested, it can cause blindness and liver damage and can kill in larger concentrations.