India toxic alcohol: At least 130 tea workers dead from bootleg drink

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Media captionThe victims are tea plantation workers from the north-eastern state of Assam

At least 130 people have died and more than 200 are being treated in hospital after drinking toxic bootleg alcohol in north-eastern India, officials said.

Some 35 people were reported dead in the state of Assam on Sunday, days after about 100 people died in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Ten people have been arrested over the bootleg drink, a police official said.

There were many women among the victims, who all worked on tea plantations.

An inquiry has been ordered into the tragedy. The death toll is believed to be the highest since a 2011 case in West Bengal, where more than 170 people died after ingesting bootleg alcohol.

The first victims died on Thursday, according to the administrator of the Golaghat district in Assam, Dhiren Hazarika.

Golaghat district Superintendent of Police Pushkar Singh told the BBC Hindi service that police had found the home where the toxic liquor was made and had recovered one and a half litres (2.5pts) of it.

Doctors at the hospitals where the victims were being treated were baffled by the ingredients used in the illegal alcohol, which has caused organ failure. An expert team from the city of Guwahati is being brought in analyse the contents of the drink

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Reuters

Image caption

A tea plantation worker who consumed the bootleg alcohol lies on a drip

“The people came to the hospital with severe vomiting, extreme chest pain and breathlessness,” Dr Ratul Bordoloi, joint director of Golaghat’s health department, told the AFP news agency.

One worker who was undergoing treatment at Golaghat Hospital told the BBC that he had been at a tea plantation on Thursday when the purchase the alcohol.

“I had bought half a litre of wine and drank it before eating,” he said. “Initially, everything was normal, but after some time my head started hurting. The headache grew so much that I could not eat or sleep.”

The man felt restless until the morning, when he started getting chest pain. His wife took him to the tea plantation hospital and he was referred to the district hospital.

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Media captionNearly half of the alcohol market is made up of so-called ‘country-made’ liquor

Deaths from illegally produced alcohol, which is much cheaper than branded spirits, are common in parts of rural India. Bootleggers often add methanol – a highly toxic form of alcohol sometimes used as an anti-freeze – to their mixture to increase its strength.

If ingested in even small quantities, methanol can cause blindness, liver damage and death.

State police said two excise department officials were suspended for failing to take adequate precautions over the sale of the alcohol.

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Media captionEarlier in February, Sunita lost five members of her family, including her husband, after toxic alcohol was served at a mourning event


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