tainted liquor

In a similar earlier incident, above file photo of Indian victims under medical treatment at Jorhat hospital after allegedly drinking toxic bootleg liquor in Assam's Golaghat district on Feb. 22, 2019. (Biju Boro/AFP via Getty Images)

NEW DELHI — Indian police arrested 25 people on suspicion of selling tainted alcohol that killed at least 69 people last week in northern Punjab state, a police officer said Aug. 1.

A state government statement said six police officers and seven other government officials have been suspended for failure to prevent the sale of tainted liquor as a magistrate began a probe into the deaths reported from three state districts of Tarn Taran, Amritsar and Batala.

Police Officer Roshan Lal said 69 deaths have been confirmed, though local media reports put the number at 86.

The police chief for Punjab state, Dinkar Gupta, said the first five deaths were reported July 29 in two villages in Amritsar district.

Over the past three days another 48 deaths were reported in the three districts, Lal told The Associated Press.

Gupta said those arrested used to supply the tainted alcohol to roadside eateries from where it was sold to travelers and the villagers.

A state government statement said the deaths were due to “spurious” liquor and a crackdown on illegal alcohol manufacturing in the state was ordered.

Deaths from illegally brewed alcohol are common in India, where the poor cannot afford licensed brands from government-run shops. Illicit liquor is cheap and often spiked with methanol to increase potency.

In 2019, at least 133 people died after drinking tainted liquor in two separate incidents in India’s northeast Assam state. The victims were mostly tea plantation workers. That same year, another 80 people died from tainted liquor in northern Uttar Pradesh state.

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