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.

Relatives sit near the patient Sawinder Singh, who is treat at a civil hospital after allegedly drinking spurious alcohol, at Tarn Taran, August 1, 2020.
Relatives sit near the patient Sawinder Singh, who is treat at a civil hospital after allegedly drinking spurious alcohol, at Tarn Taran, August 1, 2020. (AFP)

Indian police have arrested 25 people on suspicion of selling tainted alcohol that killed at least 69 people this week in northern Punjab state.

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 on Wednesday night in two villages in Amritsar district.

Over the past three days another 48 deaths were reported in the three districts, Lal said.

READ MORE: Bootleg liquor kills at least 84 in northeast India, 200 hospitalised

Massive crackdown 

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

The Tribune newspaper reported that the police have already conducted more than 100 raids and made up to 25 arrests.

Punjab state chief minister Amarinder Singh said on Friday he had ordered a special inquiry into the deaths and "anyone found guilty will not be spared".

The Indian Express newspaper said one of the suspects had died in Amritsar district after consuming the illegal liquor and that his wife had been arrested for selling the alcohol.

The case came after authorities in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh said on Friday that nine people had died after drinking alcohol-based sanitiser. 

The victims drank the sanitiser as a substitute for alcohol which has been restricted during a coronavirus lockdown in India. 

Hundreds of poor people die every year in India due to alcohol poisoning, mostly from consuming cheap hooch.

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 – a highly toxic form of alcohol sometimes used as an anti-freeze or fuel – to their home-brew liquor to increase the alcoholic content.

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.

READ MORE: Toxic liquor death toll in India rises to at least 150

Source: TRTWorld and agencies