86 Deaths Blamed on Toxic Indian Moonshine

Men who consumed illicitly brewed liquor are treated at a hospital in Ahmadabad, India, Thursday, July 9, 2009. At least 69 people, mostly poor workers living in slums, have died over the past few days after drinking tainted home-brewed liquor in the western Indian state of Gujarat. AP

At least 86 people, mostly poor workers living in slums, have died over the past few days after drinking tainted home-brewed liquor in western India, an official said Thursday.

The death toll has risen precipitously since people first fell ill Monday after a night of drinking. Seventeen people died in hospitals on Thursday; others have fallen dead in the streets.

Another 140 people are in serious condition and being treated in hospitals in Ahmadabad, the main city in Gujarat state, said Deputy Medical Superintendent Mukesh Patel.

Deaths from drinking illegally brewed cheap alcohol are common in India, where few people can afford licensed liquor. Known locally as desi daru (pronounced THEY-see DAA-roo), illicit liquor is often spiked with pesticides or chemicals to increase its potency.

In Gujarat, the problem is worse because the state law prohibits the sale of all liquor. Gujarat is the home state of India's independence leader, Mohandas Gandhi, who was a strong advocate of prohibition.

Police have arrested 32 people for allegedly manufacturing and selling the tainted liquor in the city, said a police officer at a central police office. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

Authorities asked a retired judge to investigate the deaths and suspended six police officers for negligence of duty, said state Home Minister Amit Shah.

Most of the victims lived in the Majur Gam and Odhav localities of Ahmadabad - slums inhabited by thousands of mostly poor laborers.

They included Arvind Solanki who allegedly brewed the tainted drink in his home and sold it to the workers, said Saikia.

In 1980, 128 people died after drinking tainted liquor in Majur Gam.
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