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India death toll from tainted alcohol rises to 98

The death toll from people drinking tainted alcohol in India's northern state of Punjab rose to 98 on Sunday, according to officials and local media reports.

Police arrested 25 people, suspected of supplying the alcohol to roadside restaurants where it was sold to travellers and villagers.

The police chief for Punjab state, Dinkar Gupta, said the first five deaths were reported on Wednesday night in two villages in Amritsar district. Over the past three days another 48 deaths were reported Amritsar and two others districts, Tarn Taran and Batala.

Six police officers and seven other officials have been suspended for failure to prevent the sale of tainted liquor as a magistrate began an investigation into the deaths in three districts.

A government statement said the deaths were due to “spurious” alcohol and a crackdown on illegal alcohol manufacturing in the state was ordered.

Deaths from illegally brewed alcohol are common in India, where the poor cannot afford licensed brands from government-run shops. Bootleg liquor is cheap and often spiked with methanol to increase its potency.

In 2019, at least 133 people died after drinking tainted liquor in two separate incidents in India’s northeast Assam state. The victims were mostly tea plantation workers. That same year, another 80 people died from tainted liquor in northern Uttar Pradesh state.

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