NEW DELHI – At least 76 people have died in northern India after drinking bootleg liquor, the latest in a series of tragedies caused by illegal alcohol that turned out to be poisonous.
The deaths were in two neighboring states, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Tainted liquor has killed at least 36 people since Thursday in the Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh, said Alok Kumar Pandey, the local administrator. The district is about 130 miles from New Delhi, the nation’s capital.
The autopsies are not yet complete, Pandey said, and the death toll is likely to rise. Other victims are being treated in local hospitals, and “doctors are trying their best to save their lives.”
In a neighboring district in Uttarakhand, 32 people died after consuming illegal liquor served to them as part of mourning ritual.
Authorities believe the two incidents are linked, with mourners likely having made the journey from Uttar Pradesh to Uttarakhand and brought back liquor to sell.
Eight people also died in the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh in an unconnected tragedy in a village in the district of Kushinagar. Residents there drank tainted liquor at a fair organized to celebrate a festival, said Rajeev Narayan Mishra, the district administrator. He began receiving reports of the deaths Thursday.
Deaths from illicit liquor are common in India, where illegally brewed alcohol is often consumed for reasons including poverty and geographic isolation. Bootleggers have been known to add methanol, a toxic substance used in antifreeze, to such brews; it can also be present because of a mistake in the brewing process.
The government in Uttar Pradesh has made dozens of arrests in the wake of the deaths and suspended local bureaucrats and police officers. “Whoever is responsible will not be spared,” said Yogi Adityanath, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. He also announced compensation for relatives of the deceased and those being treated in hospitals.
According to the latest figures from India’s National Crime Records Bureau, 1,522 people died from drinking spurious liquor in 2015 — nearly all of them men.
In 2015, more than 100 people died in Mumbai, India’s financial capital, after consuming illegal liquor. The victims were mostly daily-wage laborers who lived in one of the city’s slums and who bought small plastic packets of bootleg alcohol for less than 10 cents. It was the worst such tragedy to hit the city in a decade.