India: Tainted alcohol death toll rises to 54 in Tamil Nadu

Vendors sell the cheap alcohol for huge profits to customers who cannot afford branded drinks.

Bodies of people who died after consuming toxic liquor are cremated in Kallakurichi, Tamil Nadu state, India [Reuters]

At least 54 people have died and dozens are still hospitalised after drinking alcohol laced with methanol in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Nearly 200 people have been treated since Wednesday in the district of Kallakurichi, and more than 100 people are still being cared for across multiple hospitals.

Forty-eight men and six women succumbed to the tainted liquor as of Saturday with others being treated for symptoms including vomiting, stomach aches and diarrhoea.

People regularly buy illegal alcohol as few can afford branded spirits sometimes leading to large casualty incidents since some vendors add methanol to increase the potency of their drink.

But methanol, a highly toxic chemical substance used for industrial purposes, can lead to blindness, liver damage or death even in small quantities.

According to MS Prasanth, a senior district official, at least seven people have been arrested by the authorities, who earlier said they also seized 200 litres (6,763 fluid ounces) of the illegally produced alcoholic drink.

The government of Tamil Nadu said on Thursday it had taken disciplinary action against 10 officials in charge of managing illegal alcohol and failed to prevent the incident.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin announced the families of the victims and those hospitalised will receive financial compensation from the government. He also ordered a former High Court judge to investigate the incident.

State ministers and opposition leaders – who have criticised the government for failing to prevent mass poisonings – travelled to the district to meet victims and their families.

A mass cremation of the deceased has already been carried out with families carrying out last rites next to each other.

More than a dozen people died last year in a similar incident in a nearby district of Tamil Nadu. More than 120 people died in the northern state of Punjab in 2020.

In 2022, more than 30 people died in eastern India’s Bihar state and at least 28 died in Gujarat state in the west after drinking tainted liquor sold without authorisation.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies