At least 31 dead in India’s Bihar after drinking toxic alcohol


At least 31 people have died and several others hospitalised in India’s Bihar state after drinking toxic alcohol, authorities and local media said.

The deaths happened mainly in two villages in the impoverished eastern state, where the sale and consumption of liquor were banned in 2016 after women’s groups campaigned against poor workers splurging their meagre incomes on drinking.

Such bans are in force in several Indian states, driving a thriving black market for cheap alcohol made in unregulated backstreet distilleries that kills hundreds of people every year.

In the latest incident, men in Saran district, nearly 60km (37 miles) north of state capital Patna, began vomiting on Tuesday before their condition deteriorated.

Several people died on the way to hospital and others died while being treated on Wednesday and Thursday, with local media reports putting the toll at 31. Officials fear the death toll could further rise.

Senior police officer Santosh Kumar said several of the hospitalised people have lost their eyesight. He added that authorities cracked down on illicit alcohol shops in the area.

“We have arrested 126 people in the last 48 hours after the incident was reported and two cases have been registered,” Kumar told Al Jazeera.

Dr Gopal Krishna, who heads a primary health centre in Saran, told Al Jazeera that nearly 55 people reported to the centre on Wednesday with multiple illnesses.

“Some complained of loss of vision, nausea, dizziness, sweating, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure. Among them, 15 were discharged after treatment and the rest were referred to different hospitals for advanced treatment,” he said, adding that four people died immediately after coming to the centre.

Several opposition parties, including the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), held protests on Thursday outside the state legislature building to demand the state’s liquor ban be scrapped and some monetary compensation provided to the bereaved families.

Sushil Modi, the state BJP leader, said more than 1,000 people have died after drinking tainted liquor since the ban was imposed six years ago.

Bihar’s chief minister Nitish Kumar rejected the opposition’s demands and said the ban on the sale of liquor was “not my personal wish but a response to the cries of the women of the state”.

“Those who drink liquor will obviously die. We have an example in this case,” he told reporters in Hindi.

Of the estimated five billion litres of alcohol drunk every year in the country, about 40 percent is illegally produced, according to the International Spirits and Wine Association of India.

Illicit liquor is often spiked with methanol to increase its potency. If ingested, methanol can cause blindness, liver damage and death.

In July, 42 people died in the western state of Gujarat after drinking bootleg booze. Gujarat is another Indian state where the manufacturing, sale and consumption of liquor are prohibited.

In 2020, about 120 people died in the northern state of Punjab in a similar incident.__Al Jazeera