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India: Dozens dead after drinking tainted liquor

Kieran Burke
June 20, 2024

Authorities in Tamil Nadu said at least 34 people died after consuming the illicit alcohol. Hundreds of people die each year following consumption of toxic liquor, which is often sold cheaper than alternatives.

Archive picture of Indian men driningk so-called country-made liquor in Calcutta, Eastern India
Deaths from drinking illicit liquor, often spiked with chemicals such as pesticides to increase potency, are not uncommon in IndiaImage: picture alliance/dpa

Local authorities in the southern state of Tamil Nadu in India on Thursday said that at least 34 people had died after consuming tainted alcohol.

Over 60 people were still receiving treatment for vomiting, stomach ache and diarrhea.

What authorities have said

Initially, on Wednesday, more than 100 people had to be admitted to hospitals in the Kallakurichi district, situated 250 kilometers (150 miles) from the state capital Chennai, according to local authorities.

Police arrested four people over the sale of the illicit alcohol and seized 200 liters of the methanol-laced alcoholic drink, the local government said.

"I was shocked and saddened to hear the news..." Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. "Action has also been taken against the officials who failed to prevent it."

"Such crimes that ruin the society will be suppressed with an iron fist," he added.

Stalin said that action would be taken against officials for failing to prevent the incident. He later announced "financial assistance" to the families of those who died.

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Illicit alcohol in India

Production of illicit liquor has a substantial footprint in India and deaths from these illegally brewed concoctions are common.

Illegal vendors have been known to add various chemicals, including pesticides and battery acid, to their product to increase the potency of the alcohol.

Each year hundreds of people die due to the consumption of illicit alcohol according to figures from private sector initiative, the Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade (TRACIT).

The organization said in a 2023 report that ingestion of these toxic alcohols lead to serious injuries, including blindness and death. Adverse health effects include liver damage, kidney failure and cancer.

In 2020, around 947 deaths were reported due to consumption of illicit alcohol, while in 2021 there had been 782 deaths recorded, TRACIT said, citing figures from India's Ministry of Home Affairs.

Illicit alcohol sales are popular in India due to its lower prices, making it accessible to the underprivileged. Prohibiting the sale and consumption of liquor in several parts of the country also further boosts its sale on the black market.

In its 2023 report, TRACIT listed consumer awareness, sales prohibition or restriction, affordability and weak regulations and enforcement as the "enablers of illicit alcohol" in India.

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Material from Reuters, AFP and AP contributed to this report.

Edited by: Rana Taha