India: Death toll from toxic liquor rises

2011-12-16 12:14

Kolkata - The death toll from a mass poisoning in eastern India caused by toxic home-brewed alcohol rose to 170 on Friday, as police made more arrests in the case.

"We now have 170 confirmed dead," Shyamapada Basak, health services director of West Bengal state told AFP. Another 160 people were critically ill in local hospitals.

Police said they had arrested another two people, taking the number detained to 12 over the past two days.

"We are now looking for the kingpin of the racket involving the sale of illicit, spurious liquor in the district," West Bengal police additional director general, Surojit Kar Purokayastha, said.

The victims are from 10 villages in an area near West Bengal's border with Bangladesh.

Many were labourers and rickshaw drivers too poor to afford branded alcohol who stopped for a drink at illegal bars or bought from bootleggers after work on Tuesday.

Local hospitals have been overwhelmed by victims arriving either unconscious or complaining of abdominal pains and burning in their chests.

District Magistrate Narayan Swarup Nigam told AFP that methanol had been detected in at least 20 victims.

Methanol is a highly toxic form of alcohol sometimes used as an anti-freeze or fuel, but also added by producers of "moonshine" or home-brew liquor to increase the alcoholic content of the drink.

If ingested, it can cause blindness and liver damage and it kills in larger concentrations.