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Tainted booze kills 143 in India

Toxic bootleg liquor has killed 143 people and sent dozens more to hospital in West Bengal, reports say.

Batch of bootleg liquor may have been spiked, sending dozens to hospital

Relatives of victims gather at Diamond Harbour hospital, after deaths began being from bootleg liquor in the village of Sangrampur, about 30 kilometres from Calcutta. Cheap bootleg liquor is often sold to slum-dwellers, kills dozens every year in India. (Associated Press)

Tainted bootleg liquor has killed 143 people and sent dozens more to hospital in West Bengal, officials say.

Police arrested 10 people in connection with making and distributing the methanol-tainted booze and demolished 10 illicit liquor dens in the area, said Luxmi Narayan Meena, district superintendent of police.

People began falling ill after drinking the brew Tuesday night in the village of Sangrampur, about 30 kilometres from Calcutta.

By Thursday evening, the death toll had skyrocketed to 143, said Surajit Kar Purkayaspha, a top West Bengal police official. About 100 people were being treated in hospitals, he said.

Most of the dead were poor labourers who got sick after consuming the liquor from several illegal outlets on Wednesday, the Times of India reported at its website.

Social problem

Deaths began to be reported at several hospitals in the region as people sought help after consuming the liquor.

Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of the state of West Bengal, promised a crackdown.

"I want to take strong action against those manufacturing and selling illegal liquor," she said, according to Press Trust of India. "But this is a social problem also, and this has to be dealt with socially also along with action."

The deaths came just days after more than 90 people were killed in a hospital fire in nearby Calcutta that led to the arrest of the facility's directors for culpable homicide.

The latest tragedy began Tuesday night when groups of poor laborers finished work and bought some cheap homemade booze for about 10 rupees (20 cents) a half liter, less than one-third the price of legal alcohol.

Burning chest, stomach pain

The men were drinking along the roadside near the railway station, when they began vomiting, suffering piercing headaches and frothing at the mouth, a magistrate said.

Arman Seikh, 23-years-old, rushed his brother-in-law to the hospital.

"He complained of burning chest and severe stomach pain last night," he told The Associated Press.

Furious villagers ransacked the illegal alcohol shops.

Bootleg liquor kills dozens of people every year in India. In 2009, at least 112 people died from a toxic brew in western India.

Despite religious and cultural taboos against drinking among Indians, five per cent — roughly 60 million people, the population of France — are alcoholics. Two-thirds of the alcohol consumed in the country is illegal hooch made in remote villages or undocumented liquor smuggled in, according to The Lancet.

With files from The Associated Press