UPDATED 6:25 p.m. EDT: Mumbai police Saturday upped the death toll from toxic homemade liquor to 90 and said it could reach more than 100, Agence France-Press reported. "More than 40 are being treated in hospital and the death toll may reach 100," Deputy Police Commissioner Dhananjay Kulkarni said.
Five people have been arrested for distributing and selling alcohol in the slum suburb of Malad West, AFP said. The first victims began falling ill Wednesday.
Dozens of people in the Indian city of Mumbai died after drinking tainted liquor known as hooch, with the death toll climbing to over 80 on Saturday. Mumbai police officials said that another 31 victims were being treated at local hospitals, of whom at least a dozen were said to be critical.
A total of 82 people died by Saturday and another 120 were affected, Daily News and Analysis reported. Eight policemen linked to the sale of the tainted alcohol have been reportedly suspended, including Prakash Patil, a senior police commissioner of the Malwani district in Mumbai. Authorities have opened an inquiry to investigate the role the policemen played in the poisoning, and also arrested five people in connection with the case.
An anonymous police official told local newspaper Mid-Day that Patil knew that the liquor being sold was potentially lethal, but chose to turn a blind eye.
“Senior police inspector (attached to Malwani police station) along with seven other personnel, including three officers and four constables, have been suspended for connivance/negligence,” Mumbai police commissioner Rakesh Maria told the Press Trust of India.
The incident reportedly occurred on Wednesday night, with the victims beginning to display symptoms shortly after. Police officials said that initial information suggested that the tainted liquor was packed and sold from the counter of a local shop. Authorities are currently investigating the supply chain.
A preliminary analysis of the liquor found that methanol was added to the locally produced alcohol, making it significantly more powerful and dangerous. “Bootleggers mix methanol in the country-made liquor to increase its potency,” an anonymous police official told the Indian Express.
The deaths were mostly clustered in the northern district of Malwani in the Lakshmi Nagar slum area. The roads leading up to the location have been severely damaged by rains, and hospitals are finding it extremely difficult to send ambulances to the houses where more people continue to fall ill, the Indian Express reported.
This week’s incident is the latest in a string of deaths in India caused by the toxic bootleg liquor. In 2008, 180 people died in the southern states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu after consuming the liquor, and in another incident in 2009, 136 people died in the western state of Gujarat.