Toxic moonshine kills 53 people in India and leaves dozens seriously ill

Relatives mourn the people who died after consuming toxic illegal alcohol in Kallakurichi in India’s Tamil Nadu state on 20 June 2024 (AFP via Getty)
Relatives mourn the people who died after consuming toxic illegal alcohol in Kallakurichi in India’s Tamil Nadu state on 20 June 2024 (AFP via Getty)

At least 53 people have died and 20 are in critical condition after drinking illegally brewed liquor in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

A total of 117 people from Kallakurichi district are receiving treatment, chief minister MK Stalin said as fears grow of the death toll rising.

Mr Stalin said at least 164 people took ill after consuming illicit liquor but locals suspect the number could be higher as deaths in the neighbouring villages went unreported.

“More people are affected there but they are trying to escape medical teams to avoid being hospitalised,” K Kaveri, a schoolteacher, told The New Indian Express.

Ambulances, doctors and specialists from nearby areas have been deployed to the district.

The men were rushed to the hospital after they experienced giddiness, headache, vomiting and nausea after consuming the liquor on Tuesday. They are receiving treatment at Kallakurichi Government Medical College, JIPMER Puducherry and Salem Government Hospital.

Police have arrested four men following the incident and seized 200 litres of liquor. According to investigators, the man suspected of brewing the unlicensed liquor used methanol in the mix.

A preliminary investigation found that the methanol used in the brewing of the illegal liquor was sourced from neighbouring Puducherry, Mr Satlin said on Friday, vowing to take stringent action against those responsible.

“Action has also been taken against the officials who failed to prevent it. Immediate action will be taken if the public informs [us] about those involved in such crimes. Such crimes that ruin the society will be suppressed with an iron fist.”

Relatives of the victims accused the police of being complicit, saying they knew about the sale of illicit liquor in the area.

“If someone complains, they will stop for 10 days but resume again. If a person complains, the police will tip the peddler off on who raised the complaint and immediately, that person is threatened by the peddlers,” said a family member of an unnamed victim.

The sale of “illicit liquor is so rampant that even 13-year-old and 15-year-old boys are sold it in packets”, said the relative.

The state government will take care of the education of children who lost either of their parents in the tragedy, Mr Stalin said, and pay an additional allowance of Rs 5,000 (£47 ) a month until they turn 18 to those who lost both parents.

The state will also deposit Rs 500,000 (£4,728) in the bank accounts of the bereaved children and hand over the money when they turn 18.

The Madras High Court pulled up the state government for failing to take action against hooch sales despite over 20 people dying from consuming illicit liquor in 2023.

The court ordered the government to file a detailed report on the action taken and a counter affidavit by 26 June.

In the wake of the deaths in Kallakurichi, police arrested nine people suspected of selling illegal liquor in the neighbouring district of Salem and seized a total of 13,256 litres of alcohol.

This isn’t the first time India has reported deaths from consumption of illegally brewed alcohol, which is common in several states where liquor is banned and others where the poor can’t afford licensed brands from government-run shops.

In May 2023, at least 22 people died after drinking moonshine in Chengalpattu and Villupuram districts of Tamil Nadu.

In 2022, over 30 people died in the dry state of Bihar state after allegedly drinking tainted liquor. The same year, at least 46 people died and close to 100 others were rushed to the hospital after drinking spurious alcohol in the western Indian state of Gujarat.