Death toll rises to 54 in India liquor tragedy

Published June 22, 2024
Relatives mourn near the deceased who had consumed toxic alcohol in Kallakurichi district of India’s Tamil Nadu state on June 21. — AFP
Relatives mourn near the deceased who had consumed toxic alcohol in Kallakurichi district of India’s Tamil Nadu state on June 21. — AFP

The death toll has climbed to 54 from consumption of tainted liquor in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, with more than 100 people still in hospital, a government official said on Saturday.

Nearly 200 people have been treated since Wednesday for vomiting, stomach aches and diarrhoea, after drinking liquor spiked with methanol in the district of Kallakurichi, about 250 kilometres from Chennai, the state capital.

Law enforcement officials investigating the incident have arrested seven people, said MS Prasanth, a senior district official, adding that follow-up action was being taken against liquor sellers and brewers in the district.

Deaths from illegally produced alcohol, often called country liquor, are a regular occurrence in India, where few can afford branded spirits, despite public demands for a crackdown on the vendors.

The state government said it was taking steps to identify those involved in the production of methanol, a toxic chemical normally used for industrial purposes.

Videos from ANI and local media showed state ministers and opposition leaders making a beeline to the district to meet the victims.

There was a mass cremation of the deceased and families carried out last rites only a few metres apart, videos showed, reminiscent of images from India during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than a dozen people died last year in a similar incident in a nearby district of Tamil Nadu.

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