At least 46 people have died and close to 100 others were rushed to the hospital after drinking spurious alcohol in the western Indian state of Gujarat, where consumption and sale of liquor is legally prohibited, officials said on Thursday.
Authorities have said 97 people were admitted to hospitals in Bhavnagar and Ahmedabad after consuming methanol earlier this week, with the poisonous form of alcohol normally being used as an antifreeze.
Two of the patients are in critical condition, officials said.
Of the total admitted to the hospital, around 14 patients also attempted to flee the hospital in Bhavnagar’s Sir T hospital fearing police action, reported Indian daily The Times of India.
Most of the deaths took place in eastern Gujarat’s Botad district in the last three days where at least 31 people succumbed to illness caused by drinking the makeshift alcohol, senior police official Ashok Yadav told AFP.
Another 11 deaths were reported in Ahmedabad, senior police official V Chandrasekar said.
According to villagers, officials have been reporting lower casualties by failing to count the number of affected people who succumbed before reaching the hospital for treatment.
State home affairs minister Harsh Sanghavi said that a preliminary probe has found that the victims had consumed industrial-grade methanol, leading to their deaths.
After an initial probe, the police have accused a worker at a chemical packing company of stealing 600 litres of the methanol chemical and selling it off as spurious liquor.
The latest hooch tragedy to hit one of the handful of “dry” Indian state has led to a crackdown on the illegal sale of liquor in shops across Gujarat.
The state government also suspended six police officials, and ordered the administrative transfer of the Superintendents of Police (SPs) of the two districts where the deaths took place for “dereliction of duty”, according to a local report.
Officials have arrested 15 people so far based on the preliminary investigation, Gujarat’s top police official Ashish Bhatia said on Wednesday.
Hooch tragedies are commonly reported in parts of India, especially in states like Bihar and Gujarat where the consumption and sale of alcohol was banned by the Indian government in 1960.
Around 40 per cent of the estimated five billion litres of alcohol consumed in the country is illegally produced, according to the International Spirits and Wine Association of India.
This is the worst incident reported from Ahmedabad since 2009 when at least 148 people were reported dead from drinking bootleg liquor.