More than two dozen people have died and as many as 30 others are still fighting for their lives after consuming counterfeit alcohol in India’s western Gujarat state.
The incident occurred on Monday morning when residents in Rojid village in Barwala and Botad towns in the state were admitted to government-run hospitals after they started feeling seriously ill.
Two died in the morning and another five lost their lives while undergoing treatment during the day. Three more died during treatment late on Monday night, said Ashish Bhatia, Director General of Police in the state.
About 30 people are still undergoing treatment at various government hospitals in Bhavnagar, Botad, Barvala and Dhandhuka, and some are said to be critical.
Himmat Bhai, who is recovering at a hospital in Barwala, told local media that he fell ill after purchasing the liquor from a bootlegger on Sunday night.
Alcoholic drinks are banned in Gujarat — the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi — and only those with special “health permits” from the government can drink alcohol.
Anyone caught purchasing, consuming or serving alcohol without a permit can be jailed for five years.
“The state government is taking appropriate action in the episode. Opposition parties should refrain from defaming the state government by such petty politics,” Yamal Vyas, a spokesman for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, said.
Gujarat police have formed an investigation team with the anti-terrorism squad. Three people are said to be suspects; a warehouse manager associated with a methyl business and his relatives.
An initial investigation has found that the methyl stolen from the warehouse was poured in sachets and sold as liquor.
Deaths from illegally-produced alcohol, popularly called hooch or country liquor in local parlance, are common in India, where few can afford branded spirits.
At least 150 people died in Gujarat's city of Ahmedabad in 2009, in one of India's worst hooch incidents.
Thirteen died in eastern Bihar — another dry state with a history of hooch tragedies — after consuming spurious liquor in May, and more than 35 died in the state after drinking fake alcohol while celebrating Holi, the festival of colour, in March of this year.