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Tainted moonshine kills over 120 people in India

December 15, 2011 |  4:09 am

 
REPORTING FROM NEW DELHI -- At least 40 more people reportedly died Thursday from drinking tainted bootleg alcohol in an unfolding tragedy in the Indian state of West Bengal that's seen the number of deaths over the last three days top 120, with more expected given the dozens of patients in area hospitals in critical condition.

The state government promised to give $4,000 to each victim's family, announced a criminal investigation and arrested seven people who allegedly sold the liquor, although those who manufactured it were reportedly on the run.

Indian television footage showed the corridor of a local hospital in Sangrampur, about 20 miles south of Kolkata, packed with patients poisoned by the moonshine, some shielded by family members to prevent their intravenous drips from being knocked out by passing crowds. Beside them in the hallway, corpses awaited removal, including one with a numbered sticker on the forehead.

Local officials said manual laborers in and around Sangrampur started getting sick Tuesday night after drinking the home brew, known locally as chepti, which was laced with methanol. Used as a fuel, solvent or antifreeze, methanol is highly toxic, and ingesting it can lead to blindness or death.

By Wednesday morning, dozens were dead as more than 100 patients filled area hospitals.

So-called country liquor, often sold in plastic bags for as little as 20 cents per 16 ounces, is widespread in India. "I want to take strong action against those manufacturing and selling illegal liquor," said Mamata Bannerjee, West Bengal’s highest elected official, according to the Press Trust of India news service. "But this is a social problem also, and this has to be dealt with socially also along with [taking direct] action." 

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-- Mark Magnier


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