Police: Homemade liquor kills 43

Police: Homemade liquor kills 43
Relatives, mourn near body, unseen, of a person suspected of having died after consuming illicitly brewed liquor in Ahmadabad, India, Wednesday, July 8, 2009.
AHMADABAD, India (AP) - Tainted home-brewed liquor that poor workers living in slums drank over the weekend has left at least 43 dead in western India, police said Wednesday.

Another 23 were battling for their lives in three hospitals in Gujarat state's main city Ahmadabad, said S.S. Khandwawala, the director-general of state police.

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.

In the latest scourge, most deaths occurred in hospitals where the victims were brought after they drank the liquor on Sunday night, Khandwawala told reporters.

Some were found on the streets of Ahmadabad, said police commissioner S.K. Saikia.

Authorities asked a retired judge to probe the liquor deaths and suspended six police officers for negligence of duty, said state Home Minister Amit Shah.

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.

Authorities questioned a large number of suspects, but there have been no arrests so far, Khandwawala said.

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.

On Tuesday night, angry residents attacked police with stones in the area, accusing them of turning a blind eye to illicit home breweries. Police fired tear gas at the protesters.

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