NEW DELHI: At least 23 people died and 200 others were seriously sickened after drinking contaminated moonshine in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, the authorities said on Tuesday.
“People started getting sick Sunday night,” said H.D. Kaul, a spokesman for the city of Lucknow, the state capital.
The police arrested a man they identified as Jugnu and accused him of manufacturing and selling the deadly beverage. Local government officials were also suspended and accused of neglecting their duties, Mr. Kaul said.
Bootleg liquor is widely made and consumed in India because some local laws limit alcohol sales and because the bootleg beverages are often far cheaper than commercial beverages.
About 140 victims were brought to the emergency room of King George’s Medical University in Lucknow, a public hospital that was quickly overwhelmed by the crush on Monday, said Dr. Dhirender Kumar, who was on duty at the time. Seventeen patients soon died.
“We don’t have enough ventilator facilities,” Dr. Kumar said. “As the ventilator beds become available, we shift serious patients onto ventilators.”
Dr. Kumar said most of his patients drank the poisonous liquor on Sunday night but did not fall ill until Monday.
The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav, called a meeting of top state officials on Tuesday to review the incident and announced the suspensions of top officials who are charged with enforcing the state’s drug and alcohol laws, according to a statement issued to the news media. Mr. Yadav also announced that victims’ families would receive roughly $3,000 in compensation and that the guilty would be punished.
Alcohol and politics have a troubled history in India. Sugar cane farming is heavily subsidized, state governments often own or control sugar mills, and liquor monopolies are sometimes granted to a chosen few. Liquor barons often pay enormous bribes for access to crops, mills and government-controlled stores.