Death toll jumps to 133 in Assam hooch tragedy

Representative image. Photograph:( AFP )

AFP Guwahati, Assam, India Feb 24, 2019, 01.18 PM (IST)

At least 35 more workers have died in Asam after drinking toxic liquor, police said Sunday, taking the death toll from the latest mass alcohol poisoning beyond 130.

The deaths in Assam state came less than two weeks after tainted liquor killed about 100 people in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

In addition to the latest toll, at least 200 more people were still hospitalised across Assam.

"The death toll has reached 133 in Golaghat and Jorhat districts from the hooch tragedy," Mukesh Agarwala, additional director general of state police, told AFP on Sunday.

"A total of ten people have been arrested. We have sent the samples of the liquor... to a forensic laboratory. The report is awaited," he added.

Police said people started falling sick after consuming a batch of illegally produced liquor late Thursday.

The victims, who include many women, worked at local tea estates in the region. 

Doctors said those rushed to hospital in a critical condition were suffering from severe vomiting, extreme chest pain and breathlessness. 

Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has ordered an inquiry into the deaths.

Apart from the arrests, two excise department officials were suspended for failing to take adequate precautions over the sale of the alcohol.

Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma vowed those responsible for the tainted booze would be brought to justice.

Cheap, locally made liquor is common in parts of rural India and bootleggers often add methanol -- a highly toxic form of alcohol sometimes used as an antifreeze -- to their product to increase its strength. 

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

Hundreds of mainly poor people die each year in the South Asian country from tainted liquor, which normally costs just a few US cents a bottle.

Of the estimated five billion litres of alcohol drunk every year in India, around 40 per cent is illegally produced, according to the International Spirits and Wine Association of India.

Many Indian states have implemented or pushed for prohibition, which, according to critics, further increases the unsupervised manufacture and sale of alcohol. 

Story highlights

The deaths in Assam state came less than two weeks after tainted liquor killed about 100 people in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.