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143 killed by tainted batch of bootleg booze in India


Updated at 10 a.m. ET: The death toll from a tainted batch of bootleg liquor had risen to 143 by Thursday evening, according to Surajit Kar Purkayaspha, a top West Bengal state police official. About 100 people were being treated in hospitals, he said.

Updated at 12:50 a.m. ET

KOLKATA, India -- A tainted batch of bootleg liquor killed 102 people and sent dozens more to the hospital near the eastern Indian city of Kolkata, in the state of West Bengal, officials said.

Day laborers and other poor workers began falling ill late Tuesday after drinking the brew that was laced with the toxic methanol around the village of Sangrampur, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Kolkata, according to district magistrate Narayan Swarup Nigam.


Relatives of victims gather at Diamond Harbour hospital in the village of Sangrampur on Wednesday.

"It's a very sad thing that this has happened. Why don't the police stop this? I cannot understand? What connection do they have?" said Anwar Hassan Mullah, who brought six people from his village to the hospital. All of them died, Mullah told NDTV news channel.

Police arrested four people in connection with making and distributing the toxic booze, said police official Surajit Kar Purkayastha.

Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of the state of West Bengal, promised a crackdown.

"I want to take strong action against those manufacturing and selling illegal liquor," she said, according to Press Trust of India. "But this is a social problem also, and this has to be dealt with socially also along with action."

The deaths came just days after more than 90 people were killed in a hospital fire in nearby Kolkata that led to the arrest of the facility's directors for culpable homicide.

The latest tragedy began Tuesday night when groups of poor laborers finished work and bought some cheap homemade booze for about 10 rupees (20 cents) a half liter, less than one-third the price of legal alcohol.

The men were drinking along the roadside near the railway station, when they began vomiting, suffering piercing headaches and frothing at the mouth, Nigam said.

Arman Seikh, 23-years-old, rushed his brother-in-law to the hospital.

"He complained of burning chest and severe stomach pain last night," he told The Associated Press.

Furious villagers ransacked the illegal alcohol shops.

Cheap bootleg liquor kills dozens of people every year in India. In 2009, at least 112 people died from a toxic brew in western India.