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Deaths from Indian toxic alcohol rise to more than 50

Chennai, India | June 24, 2024, Monday @ 06:52 in World » GENERAL | By: AFP | Views: 1938
Deaths from Indian toxic alcohol rise to more than 50

Police stand guard in front of a hospital ward where patients who consumed toxic illegal alcohol were admitted in Kallakurichi district of India's Tamil Nadu state on June 23, 2024. The death toll from a batch of toxic illegal alcohol in India has risen to 53, media reported June 23, as more victims in hospital succumbed to the poisonous brew. (Photo by R.Satish BABU / AFP)

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The death toll from a batch of toxic illegal alcohol in India has risen to 53, media reported Sunday, as more victims in hospital succumbed to the poisonous brew.

Tamil Nadu state Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has said the locally brewed arrack drink was laced with poisonous methanol, killing 37 within hours after they drank the illegal alcohol on Tuesday.

More than 100 people were rushed to hospital, but some were too sick for medics to save.

An AFP photographer, who had visited the hard-hit Kallakurichi district during the first wave of deaths, reported how the sky was darkened by plumes of smoke that rose from dotted funeral pyres, as wailing relatives gathered to mourn.

Hundreds of people die every year in India from cheap alcohol made in backstreet distilleries, but this poisoning is one of the worst in recent years.

To increase its potency, the liquor is often spiked with methanol which can cause blindness, liver damage and death.

The Indian Express newspaper on Sunday quoted a local councillor, Palraj, describing how poor labourers in Kallakurichi district regularly bought the liquor in plastic bags costing 60 rupees ($0.70), which they would drink before work.

Some went blind and were rushed to hospital.

Others died rapidly, collapsing in the street.

- 'Work just to drink' -

"The men work just to drink, and the women run the family", motorised rickshaw driver Shankar, who lives on a street where 23 people died, told the Indian Express.

M.S. Prasanth, the top government official in the state's Kallakurichi district, said "53 people have passed away", according to the latest figures on Saturday, the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency reported.

Other Indian media on Sunday put the toll as high as 56, but there was no immediate response from police, medics or local government officials.

Political rivals in the state have apportioned blame on each other for the tragedy.

Prasanth said that seven people had been arrested in connection with the "spurious liquor tragedy", PTI added.

Tamil Nadu is not a dry state, but liquor traded on the black market comes at a lower price than alcohol sold legally.

The Indian Express also spoke to Kolanji, a domestic helper whose husband died on Thursday after drinking a packet of the tainted brew.

She said people drank the moonshine "because they cannot afford" alcohol from the government-run shops.

"They start buying packets early in the morning," she said.

Another local resident, M. Murugesan, 48, from Karunapuram, told The Times of India how most of the victims were "daily wage workers" including farm labourers.

"They were breadwinners of their families, which will now struggle to make ends meet", Murugesan said, the paper reported.

Selling and consuming liquor is prohibited in several other parts of India, further driving the thriving black market for potent and sometimes lethal backstreet moonshine.

Last year, poisonous alcohol killed at least 27 people in one sitting in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, while in 2022, at least 42 people died in Gujarat.

© Agence France-Presse

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