An adulterated batch of bootleg liquor has killed at least 125 drinkers in eastern India, with dozens more arriving at a cramped rural hospital with poisoning symptoms. The deaths come just days after a hospital fire killed 93 people in the same state of West Bengal. Both disasters highlight lax health and safety standards as the nation of 1.2 billion people rapidly modernises.
Residents of Mograhat, a town about 50 km (31 miles) south of West Bengal's capital Kolkata, fell severely ill after drinking liquor from several illegal shops. Ambulances brought more patients from villages to the town every few minutes on Thursday, according to Reuters.
Thousands of relatives, many of them wailing, gathered outside the packed hospital. Inside, dead bodies lay on the floor covered in quilts, while the ill waited on staircases to be treated. Groups of men sat in the halls with saline drips running into their arms.
Illegal liquor operations flourish across the slums of urban India and among the rural poor who can't afford the alcohol at state-sanctioned shops. The hooch, often mixed with cheap chemicals, causes illness and death on occasion, but rarely creates such mass carnage. Day laborers and other poor workers began falling ill late Tuesday after drinking cheap booze from illegal shops near the village of Sangrampur, district magistrate Naraya Swarup Nigam said, informs Washington Post.
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, says Los Angeles Times.
The scale of deaths has prompted a government crackdown on an industry usually tolerated in exchange for bribes to police and local authorities. Police have ransacked four breweries. The Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, said attempts to shut down the illegal brewing were resisted by those with a vested interest in it continuing, without saying what those interests were.
Other states are less reticent. Last week, the western state of Gujarat passed a law making the illegal manufacture of alcohol punishable by death. India has one of the faster growing legal alcohol markets in the world, reports Sydney Morning Herald.