Death toll from India tainted liquor tragedy rises to 47

By Praveen Paramasivam

(Reuters) - The death toll from the latest case of tainted liquor in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu has climbed to 47, with over 100 people still in hospital, a government official said on Friday.

Since Wednesday more than 150 people, suffering from vomiting, stomach aches and diarrhoea, have needed treatment after drinking methanol-mixed liquor made in the Kallakurichi district, about 250 km (150 miles) from the state capital Chennai.

On Friday morning, 118 people were still being treated in hospitals in the district and nearby areas, the government official said.

On Thursday, a government spokesperson said at least 36 people had died.

Police arrested four people over illicit liquor sales and seized 200 litres of the alcoholic drink, the state government said on Thursday, adding that it had taken disciplinary action against 10 officials for failure to prevent it.

Deaths from illegally produced alcohol, known locally as "hooch" or "country liquor", are a regular occurrence in India, where many cannot afford branded spirits, even as the public and activists call for a crackdown on the sellers.

The Tamil Nadu government said it was taking steps to identify people involved in the production of methanol - a toxic chemical normally used for industrial purposes.

Videos from ANI, in which Reuters has a minority stake, and local media showed state ministers and opposition leaders making a beeline to the district to meet the victims.

There was mass cremation of the deceased and families carried out last rites only a few metres (yards) apart, videos showed, reminiscent of images from India during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than a dozen people died last year in a similar incident in a nearby district of Tamil Nadu.

(Reporting by Praveen Paramasivam; editing by Sudipto Ganguly and Kim Coghill)