At Least 39 Dead After Drinking Illicit Alcohol

At least 39 people reportedly died and several others were hospitalised after consuming fake spirits in India’s eastern state of Bihar, where the sale and consumption of alcohol have now been banned for six years.

The deaths were mostly recorded from Mashrak and Isuapur areas of Saran district, the state’s minister for prohibition Sunil Kumar said.

Most of the victims, some of whom had been sick since Tuesday morning, were declared dead upon arrival at a hospital in Chhapra, according to medical officer-in-charge Sagar Dulal Sinha. The district administration has formed teams to tour the affected villages and meet the families to track the seller.

Dr Sinha said the villagers had initially refrained from seeking professional help due to fear of being prosecuted for violating the law.

Two police personnel were suspended with immediate effect while another officer was transferred following the deaths.

There has been a rise in deaths related to illicit liquor in Bihar following a complete ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol in the state imposed by chief minister Nitish Kumar in April 2016.

A first-time offender is fined up to Rs 5,000 (£48) and sentenced to 30 days in prison upon failing to pay the penalty. A repeat offender is sentenced to 12 months in prison under new amendments to the existing law.

Mr Kumar faced flak from his political opponents seeking a review of the sweeping provisions of the ban and monetary compensation to the bereaved family members.

Standing his ground on the ban, the chief minister on Thursday said: “Last time, when people died due to spurious liquor, someone said they should be compensated.”

“If someone consumes alcohol, they will die. The example is before us.”

He argued that the prohibition has “benefitted” several people as a large chunk of Bihar’s population have given up alcohol for good. Mr Kumar said liquor is “bad and should not be consumed”.

“Several people have happily accepted this. But there are some troublemakers. I have told officers to identify the actual troublemakers and nab them.”

The chief minister added that officials have been told to exempt the poor from being caught and go behind the manufacturers of the illicit liquor.

Last month the chief minister announced a Rs 100,000 (£978 ) reward for those willing to give up their liquor business to make a living. “Under the Sustainable Livelihood Scheme, assistance is being given to the people associated with the liquor business to start another job. A large number of people have taken advantage of this,” he said.

In November 2021, at least 30 people died in three days after consuming spurious alcohol across the state.

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