Dozens of villagers have died and more are fighting for their lives after buying cheap homemade alcohol in north India. The authorities arrested a local vendor and suspended several policemen over the case.
The death toll has reached 33 by Monday, officials said. Most of the victims are farmers and daily wage laborers in the northern Uttar Pradesh state.
The police arrested a local drinks vendor who was selling pouches of tainted liquor on Friday.
"Many of those who drank the liquor started vomiting and complained of severe abdominal pain before collapsing," police official Atul Kumar told the dpa news agency.
"The first deaths were reported by Saturday evening. Three to four people have been blinded by the tainted drink," he added.
A number of villagers are still in critical condition, according to the authorities.
The Uttar Pradesh salesman faces charges of culpable homicide. The authorities also suspended 11 officials, including seven policemen, for allowing the sale of illicit liquor.
Although it was not immediately clear what chemical caused the latest poisoning, bootleggers are known to add toxic methanol to their mixtures to raise alcohol content. Methanol is extremely poisonous and can be used as antifreeze or car fuel.
Bootleg alcohol is hugely popular in India, with many people too poor to buy brand-name drinks. The suspect shop owner sold his liquor at one-sixth of the price of regular alcohol.
Experts believe that some two billion liters of bootleg alcohol are sold in India every year, compared to less than three billion liters of legal liquor. Eight people have died in a separate poisoning case in Rajasthan in April, and over 100 people were poisoned to death in a Mumbai slum last year.
dj/kl (AFP, AP, dpa)