Assam toxic alcohol death toll crosses 120

At least 120 people have died and more than 100 are being treated in hospital after drinking toxic bootleg alcohol in north-eastern India, officials say.

Several women are among the victims, who all worked on tea plantations in Assam state.

The deaths come days after tainted spirits killed about 100 people in the northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

An inquiry has been ordered into the tragedy.

The first victims died on Thursday, the administrator of the Golaghat district in Assam, Dhiren Hazarika, is quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The victims all worked in tea plantations in Golaghat and Jorhat districts.

Golaghat district Superintendent of Police Pushkar Singh told BBC Hindi’s Dilip Kumar Sharma that police had found the home where the toxic liquor was made and had recovered one and a half litres (2.5pts) of it.

Doctors at the hospitals where the victims are being treated are baffled by the ingredients used in the illegal alcohol, which is causing organ failure.

An expert team from the city of Guwahati is on its way to analyse the mixture and investigate its contents.

“The people came to the hospital with severe vomiting, extreme chest pain and breathlessness,” Dr Ratul Bordoloi, joint director of Golaghat’s health department, told AFP.

One worker who is undergoing treatment at Golaghat Hospital told the BBC that he had been at a tea plantation on Thursday.

“I had bought half a litre of wine and drank it before eating. Initially, everything was normal, but after some time my head started hurting.

“The headache grew so much that I could not eat or sleep.”

He felt restless until the morning, and started getting chest pain. His wife then took him to the tea plantation hospital, and he was referred to the district hospital.

Deaths from illegally produced alcohol, which is much cheaper than branded spirits, are common in parts of rural India. Bootleggers often add methanol – a highly toxic form of alcohol sometimes used as an anti-freeze – to their mixture to increase its strength, AFP reports.

If ingested in even small quantities, methanol can cause blindness, liver damage and death.

An inquiry commission has been set up to investigate the deaths, officials say.

State police say they have arrested one man for selling the alcohol, and authorities said two excise department officials were suspended for failing to take adequate precautions over the sale of the alcohol, AFP reports.

More than 100 people were reported to have died in Uttar Pradesh and in Uttarakhand last week after consuming illegal alcohol.

The death tolls from those two incidents are believed to be the highest since a 2011 case in West Bengal when more than 170 people died after ingesting bootleg alcohol.

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