India bootleg alcohol death toll rises to 98 as families mourn
The death toll from a toxic bootleg alcohol scandal in the north Indian state of Punjab rose to 98 Sunday, officials and reports said.
Police have arrested 25 people so far over the worsening tragedy, which starting coming to light late last week, the Press Trust of India news agency said.
Hundreds of people die every year in India from illegal alcohol made in backstreet distilleries which sells for as little as 10 rupees (13 US cents) a litre, affordable for even the poorest.
The death toll from the illicit booze had risen to 75 in Punjab's Tarn Taran district after further investigation, the local administration's deputy commissioner Kulwant Singh said.
"Several families refused to divulge details of deaths and a few even cremated them. We have come to this number after information gathering," Singh told AFP Sunday.
A further 11 people had died in Gurdaspur district, a local official told AFP. PTI reported Saturday that toxic moonshine had also killed 12 in Amritsar.
Relatives of the victims mourned on Sunday as the state opposition party called on the Punjab government to "curb liquor mafia in the state" in a series of tweets.
Punjab state chief minister Amarinder Singh said Friday he had ordered a special inquiry into the deaths and "anyone found guilty will not be spared".
In a separate incident, authorities in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh said on Friday that nine people had died after drinking alcohol-based sanitiser.
Of the estimated five billion litres of alcohol drunk every year in India, around 40 percent is illegally produced, according to the International Spirits and Wine Association of India.
Deaths are frequently reported, with bootleggers often found adding methanol -- a highly toxic form of alcohol sometimes used as an anti-freeze -- in their brews to increase its strength.
If ingested, methanol can cause blindness, liver damage and death in larger concentrations.
In 2015, more than 100 people died in a Mumbai slum died after drinking illegal moonshine.