LUCKNOW, India (AP) — At least 19 people died and six others were blinded after drinking toxic bootleg liquor in northern India, police said Sunday.
Another 50 people fell ill after consuming the home-brewed liquor on Friday and were being treated in hospitals in Etah district in Uttar Pradesh state, said senior police officer Ajay Shankar Rai. The Press Trust of India news agency put the death toll at 21.
Illicit liquor is a hugely profitable industry across India, where bootleggers pay no taxes and sell enormous quantities of their product. The manufacturers operate from homes, hidden warehouses and even forests.
Rai said the victims bought the liquor from a village shop on Friday evening and started falling ill and dying. The shop owner, who has been arrested, was selling pouches of tainted liquor for 15 rupees (4 cents) each, six times cheaper than the legal drink, he said.
Most of the victims were poor farmers and laborers looking for a cheap means of intoxication. India's poor often buy cheap bootleg liquor made of syrups and medicines that are spiked with methyl alcohol and other industrial spirits to give it a kick.
District Magistrate Ajay Yadav ordered an investigation, but excessive use of methyl alcohol in the liquor appears to have caused the deaths.
State authorities have suspended six officials, including four policemen, for allowing the sale of illicit liquor in Etah district, about 240 kilometers (150 miles) southwest of Lucknow, the Uttar Pradesh state capital.