NEW DELHI — Indian police said they arrested more than two dozen people on suspicion of selling tainted alcohol that killed at least 69 villagers and others in northern Punjab state.
Six police officers and seven other officials have been suspended for failure to prevent the sale of tainted liquor as a magistrate began an investigation into the deaths in three districts.
Police Officer Roshan Lal said Saturday that 69 people died, though local media reports put the number at 86.
The police chief for Punjab state, Dinkar Gupta, said the first five deaths were reported on Wednesday night in two villages in Amritsar district. Over the past three days another 48 deaths were reported Amritsar and two others districts, Tarn Taran and Batala. Lal told The Associated Press.
Gupta said the 25 suspects supplied the tainted alcohol to roadside eateries from where it was sold to travelers and the villagers.
The government statement said the deaths were due to "spurious" liquor and a crackdown on illegal alcohol manufacturing in the state was ordered.
Deaths from illegally brewed alcohol are common in India, where the poor cannot afford licensed brands from government-run shops. Illicit liquor is cheap and often spiked with methanol to increase potency.
In 2019, at least 133 people died after drinking tainted liquor in two separate incidents in India's northeast Assam state. The victims were mostly tea plantation workers. That same year, another 80 people died from tainted liquor in northern Uttar Pradesh state.