Image: A person who consumed illicitly brewed liquor awaits treatment at a hospital
Ajit Solanki  /  AP
A person who consumed illicitly brewed liquor waits for treatment at a hospital in Ahmadabad, India, on Thursday. Dozens of people, mostly poor workers living in slums, have died over the past few days after drinking tainted home-brewed liquor in the western state of Gujarat.
updated 7/9/2009 6:28:34 PM ET 2009-07-09T22:28:34

At least 69 people, mostly poor workers living in slums, have died over the past few days after drinking tainted home-brewed liquor in western India, an official said Thursday.

The tragedy began unfolding on Monday when people began to fall sick after drinking sessions over the weekend in Ahmadabad, the main city in Gujarat state.

The death toll now stands at 69, said I.P. Gautam, the chief municipal official of Ahmadabad. He said 120 people were being treated in four hospitals.

Deaths from drinking illegally brewed cheap alcohol are common in India, where few people can afford licensed liquor. Known locally as desi daru (pronounced THEY-see DAA-roo), illicit liquor is often spiked with pesticides or chemicals to increase its potency.

Found dead on streets
In Gujarat, the problem is worse because the state law prohibits the sale of all liquor. Gujarat is the home state of India's independence leader, Mohandas Gandhi, who was a strong advocate of prohibition.

In the latest scourge, most deaths occurred after drinkers were admitted to hospitals. Others were found dead on the streets.

Authorities asked a retired judge to probe the deaths and suspended six police officers for negligence of duty, said state Home Minister Amit Shah. A large number of suspects have been questioned but no arrests have been made.

Most of the victims lived in the Majur Gam and Odhav localities of Ahmadabad — slums inhabited by thousands of mostly poor laborers.

They included Arvind Solanki who allegedly brewed the tainted drink in his home and sold it to the workers, said Saikia.

Solanki, his son and another relative drank the liquor to prove it was of good quality after some customers complained about the brew's bitter taste, a police officer said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

All three died in the hospital, the officer said.

In 1980, 128 people died after drinking tainted liquor in Majur Gam.

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