At least 21 people have died after allegedly consuming illegally-brewed poisonous alcohol in India’s northern state of Punjab, prompting authorities to order an investigation, officials said Friday.
The villagers, mostly poor farmers and workers, fell ill after drinking the alcohol on Wednesday. The first deaths were reported later on Wednesday night, domestic media reported.
The Punjab government said the state Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had ordered a high-level inquiry into the suspicious deaths across the Amritsar, Batala and Tarn Taran districts. One person was reported to be in critical condition, it added.
Singh, who has promised strong action against those found guilty, also directed the police to launch a crackdown on spurious liquor manufacturing units in the state, reports said.
Police had detained some suspects and were waiting for autopsy reports to determine the exact causes of death.
The illegal liquor trade thrives in India because it is much cheaper than commercially produced alcohol. Methanol, a chemical used in antifreeze and wood spirits, is often found in these self-made drinks.
Last year, 151 people, mostly tea-plantation workers, died after drinking toxic alcohol in one of the country’s worst liquor poisonings in recent years.
An average of 1,000 people, most of them poor, die in India each year after consuming illegally brewed alcohol, government data shows.