At least 150 die from tainted liquor in India's northeast

A doctor attends to a victim, who had consumed bootleg liquor, at a hospital in Jorhat in northeastern state of Assam, India, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. At least 84 people have died and another 200 have been hospitalized after drinking tainted liquor in two separate incidents in India's remote northeast, authorities said on Saturday. ( AP Photo)

GAUHATI, India — At least 150 people have died and about 200 people have been hospitalized after drinking tainted liquor in two separate incidents in India's remote northeast, authorities said Sunday.

The victims of one of the most deadly bootleg liquor-related incidents in India were mostly tea plantation workers in Golaghat and Jorhat districts in Assam state, said Himanta Biswa Sharma, the state's health minister.

Assam is India's largest tea-producing state, with more than 1,000 plantations producing more than 50 percent of Indian tea.

The workers consumed the tainted liquor laced with methyl alcohol, a chemical that attacks the central nervous system, on Thursday and started falling unconscious. They were rushed to nearby hospitals and the death toll rose to 150 by early Sunday, police and health officials said.

Sharma, the minister, said about 200 people who fell sick after drinking the toxic liquor are in hospitals, some in critical condition.

Officials said 50 patients have died in the past 24 hours.

The owner of a local brewing unit and 13 others have been arrested, said top police official Mukesh Agarwal. He said police are pursuing other people believed to be connected to the racket as part of an ongoing investigation.

"We shall not spare anyone involved in manufacture and distribution of the tainted liquor," Minister Sharma said.

Locals vandalized home of one of the arrested. Authorities collected samples for the medical tests.

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

In India's Uttar Pradesh state earlier this month, about 80 people died from tainted bootleg liquor.

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