Death toll mounting after toxic liquor consumption in India

NEW DELHI, 15 Dec 2022:

Scores of people have died and several had to be hospitalised after allegedly consuming adulterated liquor in an eastern Indian state amid a regional blanket ban on alcohol, officials said today.

The tragedy occurred over the last two days in the Saran district of Bihar, where the government banned liquor manufacturing, sale and consumption in 2016.

SD Singh, a senior doctor at a government hospital, said 24 people have died after consuming adulterated alcohol, even as the local media said the death toll was nearly 40.

The deputy superintendent of the district hospital said “24 deaths confirmed for spurious alcohol after the autopsy”.

The first cases of alcohol poisoning occurred on Tuesday in the town of Doula. Since then, there have been more deaths in neighbouring towns, the Indian Express newspaper reported, bringing the total to 39.

The tragedy has led to a political confrontation between the government and the regional opposition parties.

Bihar has banned the sale of alcoholic beverages to curb violence, especially against women.

Chief minister Nitish Kumar defended the ban, noting that “it has benefited a lot of people, and a large number of people have given up alcohol.”

Politicians from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was in power in coalition with Kumar when the ban was imposed, are now resisting the measure.

The BJP heads the federal government but is in the opposition in Bihar.

Several lawmakers, including those from the BJP, protested today, demanding the scrapping of the liquor ban.

The state’s opposition leader, Vijay Kumar Sinha, took to Twitter to denounce the deaths, which he blamed on the failed ban policy.

The consumption of illegal and adulterated alcohol tends to occur in rural India, with people drawn to it because of its cheap price tag.

The poor, mainly the labourers, farmers, and rickshaw pullers, often drink country-made liquor, which is cheaper than alcohol bought from licensed shops.

Alcohol that is legally available in India can be relatively expensive. Bootleggers evade taxes by selling their products to the poor at cheaper rates.

The recent hooch tragedies include 155 deaths at a tea plantation in the northeastern Assam state in 2019.

In July, at least 40 people died and more than 50 were hospitalised in the western state of Gujarat, where the sale of alcohol is also prohibited.