More than 100 people died and many more hospitalized in eastern India after consuming a batch of home-brewed liquor thought to have been laced with methanol, a highly toxic chemical, officials said Thursday. Police arrested eight suspected bootleggers.
The deaths mainly took place near the Sangrampur railway station, about 30 miles south of Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal. It was the second major tragedy for Kolkata in less than a week. Last Friday, more than 90 people died in a hospital fire, the New York Times reported.
Many of the victims were reportedly daily wage earners who had assembled along a road near the railway station to drink the illicit booze they bought for 10 rupees (20 cents) a half-liter, less than a third of the price of legal alcohol, district magistrate Naraya Swarup Nigam said.
Later, he said, they began vomiting, suffering piercing headaches and frothing at the mouth.
The police arrested eight people and charged them with selling illegal liquor and with culpable homicide.
Authorities said more than 100 other victims are still in the hospital, some critically ill after consuming the liquor late Tuesday.
The patients are having problems in eyes, respiratory system, nervous system, kidney problems, said Dr. Gautam Saha, a medical office at Diamond Harbor government hospital, where most of the victims were admitted.
We are facing a shortage of doctors, paramedics, space, medicines.
While police are still investigating the source of the liquor, officials said it was from an illegal distillery in the village of Mograhat that supplies 70 shops in the area.
In India, illegal liquor diluted with cheap chemicals is often consumed by poor people because it is cheap.
The Associated Press reported the liquor had been tainted with methanol, a clear liquid that can be used as fuel, solvent or anti-freeze, and can induce comas, cause blindness and, if consumed in high doses, is deadly.
Such incidents have taken place in the past in Hooghly, Chennai and Mumbai, as well, said State Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, speaking to a local television news channel. The brewers have used some chemicals, which if used in large quantities, kills people.